Will Black Boys Ever Be Able to Live in Peace in America?

Otis Hixon Jr., 19, of Waggaman, playing basketball in an undated photo. Hixon was shot and killed Tuesday (April 1) in Marrero. (Photo courtesy of Hixon family)
Otis Hixon Jr., 19, of Waggaman, playing basketball in an undated photo. Hixon was shot and killed Tuesday (April 1) in Marrero. (Photo courtesy of Hixon family)

Otis Hixon Jr., a 19-year-old coach for his church’s 8-to-12-year-old basketball team, was shot dead Tuesday night in Marrero, a week after he told his parents that somebody – somebody he wouldn’t name – wanted to kill him. Hixon’s family, active members at New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, have been plunged into the same ocean of grief that has overwhelmed so many others, the same sorrow that has overshadowed so many who have loved and raised and cared for young black boys and men.

The young Hixon, who reportedly had promise on the basketball court, experienced a crisis of faith after his best friend, Lydell Hartford Jr., was killed at his Waggaman home in July. Hartford, a linebacker at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, was shot accidentally by a friend horsing around with a .38-caliber pistol. Hixon couldn’t understand, his father Otis Hixon Sr. said, why God didn’t intervene, why God didn’t keep an innocent person, a young man with such potential, from dying at such a young age.

The Book of Psalms includes the kind of frustration, the kind of disappointment, dismay and bewilderment that Hixon’s family says he was going through. I don’t know that it’s possible to be a person of faith and not experience some great loss, some great pain that makes you question everything you believed when you adopted that faith. Most of us are given the length of days necessary to work through such questions. Many of us reach a place where our disappointments don’t have a toxic effect on our beliefs.

Whoever killed Hixon seems to have stopped the Waggaman teenager from reaching that spiritual maturity. Whoever killed Hixon has likely made other young boys ask some uncomfortable questions. “This is going to be traumatic for them,” Franklin Avenue’s athletic director said. “The younger kids looked up to him as a coach, especially with his basketball skills and his encouragement to them.”

Even if Hixon died as he was still asking questions, his sister Jasmine said Wednesday, “I know he’s at peace. He doesn’t have to worry anymore.” That belief, that blessed assurance, must be a great consolation to the Hixons in this time of pain. So many hymns of the church, so many gospel songs, create a longing for that coming time, “Soon and Very Soon,” when there will be no tears, no pain, no young black boys fearing for their lives and having their fears confirmed with gunshots.

But a seat in heaven shouldn’t be the only goal of the believer. Justice down here should be as fervently desired. I don’t dare contradict Jasmine Hixon’s assertion that her brother is now at rest, but to hell with the idea that heaven is the only place we can expect a young black boy, a young black man, to be safe and free from harm. Otis Hixon Jr. should been able to find some measure of peace here. He should have been able to live, to grow, to question, to falter, to shout, to cry, to laugh, to mourn. He should have been able to rebel. He should have been able to return to himself. He should have been able to mature, to marry, to raise children, to see grandchildren and to die in his dotage.

Instead, he was cut down in what should have been the beginning of his adulthood, cut down before he could exhibit the potential his loved ones say he possessed. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office says Hixon was shot several times in the 2100 block of Constantine Drive in Marrero and that investigators found spent shell casings from several different guns on the scene.

Sheila Hixon said Wednesday that she wanted to do something when her son told her and her husband that someone wanted to kill him. She wanted her son to give her a name so she could contact that person’s parents. Maybe they could all talk things out.

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Source: NOLA.com / The Times-Picayune | Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry can be reached at jdeberry@nola.com. Follow him attwitter.com/jarvisdeberry.

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