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Roberto: I Am My Brother’s Keeper

You and I met three times. First, at Barringer High School where we served on the School Leadership Council. You were a Community Representative and I was a teacher there. We didn’t get to know each other well, but I had a positive impression of you as a young guy who advocated for the students. You say you remember me from then, but I don’t believe you.

We met again at New Jersey Communities United some six or seven years later. There, you were one of the Lead Organizers and I was working under your direction on the campaign for organizing the in-home childcare providers. We became work friends and comrades around the education struggle. You were supporting NSU and I was an active member of NEW Caucus.

Aside from the job, I got to know “Mr C,” which is what the Dynamic Dynasty dancers who would stop by the office called you. I was impressed you had a-whole-nother life as a manager of a dance team. You were a true mentor for young people.

Our friendship grew over those four years, but we didn’t get close until after I left NJCU. I wanted to start a new iteration of millennials organizing for political change, to move the spotlight on our leadership and interests. You were the first one I called, the only one I could have thought to call first, and you were down. That was the third time we met–and when you became my brother.

This past weekend I felt zapped. I nearly slept the day away, chalking it up to my cycle. Monday, I got back on the ball and Tuesday was even more productive. I drove downtown to pick up flyers for my new business. It happened to be on Clinton Street with the old NJCU office. It had been a very long time since I’d been on that narrow, one-way. I parked in front of the old building. It is now condos. The new downtown. On my way back to the car, I snapped a picture and sent it to you: “You’ve probably seen this already but this is my first time. So weird 😲”

I head over to a school to flyer the parking lot. I remember being on the campaign trail together. You were committed to me. Like so committed. Back in the car, I head up the Parkway to drop off some flyers at a friend’s house. I receive a call and then another and another. They say you are gone. I don’t–won’t accept it. It’s the worst joke you could ever play and I can’t wait to cuss you out. I don’t know what’s happened and I don’t know where you are. I get home. I get more details. It was this weekend. This weekend. I believe you were here. I believe you were fighting. I wish I could have given you all my energy. But I didn’t know.

You accepted me for who I was, let me be me, and listened to me talk about who I wanted to be. We would talk for hours from the personal to the political, seek advice, bounce ideas, figure shit out. 

You protected and cared for me. And now I feel less safe with you gone. 

Loving friendships provide us with a space to experience the joy of community in a relationship where we learn to process all our issues, to cope with differences and conflict while staying connected.

bell hooks, all about love

You constantly told me you loved me and trusted me. Maybe you did it more as a reminder for yourself that you had people who genuinely cared for you; I did my best to let you know I felt the same exact way. How much your friendship meant to me. That you were truly my brother. I have a fear that expressing difference will divide me from others. But I never felt that with you. Even in our differences, we still loved each other. 

My commitment is to carry your spirit with me everywhere I go. To hear your laughter, see your smile, and feel your hugs. To be present, to live in my truth to the fullest extent. To be everything you saw in me.

2 Comments

  1. BounceSquad426
    BounceSquad426 September 2, 2021

    Thank you for this reflection. You know that first pic is demonstrative of my beginning for Roberto and you…..I was grateful when I first saw the painting and Roberto for lending it to me…..a stranger…..but I am beyond grateful knowing the connection it served a catalyst for….that connection has helped me get through and cope with what James Baldwin refers to as, “the most fantastic, the most brutal, and the most determined resistance.” As I grow to understand how fleeting time is, I also realize how pivotal moments are. In the short time Roberto was with us, his were not just pivotal……..but many and magnificent. I will never forget Roberto or how he always made me laugh no matter what. Roberto’s last text message to me is an example of how to be thoughtful…..I will always think about it when trying to grow and be more thoughtful. Finally, moving forward I will carry on that lesson he taught last week during our beautiful retreat that he was instrumental in organizing….”ACCOUNTABILITY IS LOVE.” Praise God for Roberto and long live his Spirit!

  2. Marcella Simadiris
    Marcella Simadiris September 2, 2021

    I remember meeting the two of you for the first time at 30 Clinton street too.

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