(This piece was originally published by The Players’ Tribune and contains explicit language.)
You see that video going around of these silly ass college kids down in South Florida on spring break? Talking about, “If I get corona, I get corona, bro,” and all that nonsense?
Man, I’ll tell you one thing for sure.
Those kids have never been hungry a day in their life.
They never had to worry about nothing more serious than a pop quiz. But they’re still coming down here — coming to our state — in the middle of a pandemic, acting like nothing’s going on??
I’m not usually the kind of guy who does this sort of thing…. I don’t write a lot of articles. But if you f*** with my city, I’m going to speak on it.
So I’m going to take a second here and say my piece.
It’s funny — these kids fly down to places like South Beach for a couple days to party, and they think that’s Miami. But they’ve never seen the real Miami. They’ve never been to Liberty City. They’ve never seen the side of this city that’s living check to check. The side of this city that’s surviving meal to meal.
And let me just tell you something, man — there’s a Liberty City in every city. It’s regular people, with regular struggles. And I don’t know how I can get everyone to listen, but I say this from the bottom of my heart: The people growing up in the real Miami? They’re as vulnerable during this crisis as anybody.
And I’ll tell you one more thing — this idea about those people, that because of this coronavirus they’re going to go hungry? They were already hungry. Way before all this. They were already worrying about where their next meal was gonna come from, or where they’re gonna sleep tonight, or how they’re going to get their next dollar.
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And that’s what I need to get off my chest right here. Because it’s been eating me up — to see all this coverage of our city, from all these people who don’t even know what they’re talking about, that’s just focused on a bunch of kids acting stupid.
This ain’t your f***ing beach, bruh.
This is not your spring break.
This shit is real life — and come to think of it, it’s more than even that.
This shit is life and death.
But how do I know, right? I hear y’all already, with your comments. I’m just some rich basketball player. How can I relate to that? What do I know?
Man, I grew up in Liberty City.
I had never even been to South Beach until my rookie year in the NBA.
We were living a whole different life across the bridge.
We saw things no kids should see. Drug addiction was all around us. Homelessness was all around us. My mother, God bless her soul, struggled with addiction and was homeless for years until she turned her life around.
I was that kid getting those free school lunches you read about on your Twitter timeline. Matter of fact, most of us in my elementary school had lunch cards. We went to school to eat, you know what I’m saying?? Those fish sticks were everything. That little carton of chocolate milk was everything. If you skipped school to f*** around in the streets, you might go hungry that day.
I didn’t know anything different. To me, that was just the norm. Like if you had three dollars to buy some chips and a sandwich for lunch? Man, I was looking at you like you were the weird one, you know what I’m saying?
And so while I might not be a doctor or a congressman or anything like that, I do know one thing — just as someone who grew up where I grew up: If our schools have to close down for a long time because this corona thing gets out of control, millions of kids are going home to empty refrigerators.
The worse this pandemic gets, the worse it’s going to be for those kids.
Really think about that.
And also ask yourself this question: Have you ever been hungry before?
I mean really hungry? Not just, like, “Damn, bro, I gotta get on Grubhub right now” hungry.
No, I’m talking hungry.
Because here’s something that only those who’ve really struggled will ever know: Everything changes when you’re hungry. Everything, man. Your whole entire perspective changes.
I’ll tell you a true story. Any time I see a bowl of raisins? Mannnnnnnn. Listen. To this very day, if I see raisins, it’s like I get triggered. I mean it — if I saw a bowl of them on the table right now, I might go apeshit. I might damn near flip the table over. Can’t see ’em, bro. Can’t smell ’em. Makes me sick.
It’s because when I was growing up, we had too many nights where the only thing we had for dinner were those little red boxes of raisins. Nothing else, no lie. That was the main motherf***ing course. Man … you know that smell I’m talking about? The smell of that California Raisin–ass cardboard? You’d be sitting there thinking, “Alright, it’s only about 15 hours till I get to school tomorrow so I can get some fish sticks.”
And that was the reality for lots of kids before all this coronavirus stuff and all this economic pain, you know what I’m saying? That’s just life. Kids going hungry, that’s our normal, right?
If this crisis doesn’t wake us up and make us change as a country, I don’t know what will.
When the average person in Middle America thinks about this virus, and this “social distancing” talk and all that, maybe they picture a bunch of schools shutting down and then these kids going home to a bunch of nice houses and chilling for a couple months. Eating snacks, playing video games. Mom’s working from home, doing conference calls. And I’m glad that’s a reality for so many kids.
But for a lot of kids, for the other half of America, it’s not reality.
For them, home might not be the safest place.
Maybe there’s a reason these kids don’t go home until it’s time to sleep, you know what I’m saying? Maybe there’s a reason they stay out at the basketball court or at the Y until they lock the gates at night.
Might be violent in that household, you feel me?
If this situation gets out of control, and we have to keep everybody off the streets? That house they’re holed up in might start to feel more like a prison.
For a lot of kids, the truth is that school is the only structure they got. It’s the only food they can count on. It’s the only safety that’s guaranteed.
You take that all away? You better be prepared to protect them.
And that’s really the thing about this crisis that we’re living through right now. This moment we’re in … it’s not about you. It’s not about your spring break, or the way you wanna live your life. It’s like, yeah, trust me, bro — I wanna chill, too. I wanna work out at the gym, too. I wanna be on the court again, grooming these young bucks.
So hell yeah, I want my old life back, too.
But this ain’t about me. It ain’t about you.
This thing is about us.
This virus is going to affect everybody, especially the most vulnerable.
So if you got a nice, stable environment? Keep your ass home.
If you got a roof over your head? Keep your ass home.
If you got a crib with Netflix and a refrigerator full of food? Keep your ass home.
I can’t tell you what’s going to happen with the coronavirus. I’m not a public health expert. But I am a certified O.G., and I’m definitely qualified to tell you about what’s going to happen in these streets with so much of the economy shut down. If people don’t take this situation seriously and pull together as a nation, millions of kids are going to suffer.
They didn’t ask for this life. They got dealt this hand when they came out the womb. It’s our responsibility as a nation to protect these kids. You don’t have to be rich to do your part. You don’t have to be a saint, neither.
You know, I tell people all the time, I was raised on the wings of the O.G.’s.
If it wasn’t for other people reaching out their hand to me, I never would’ve made it out of my situation. I never would’ve lived my dreams. And listen, you didn’t have to be Mother Teresa to help a kid out, you know what I’m saying? You didn’t have to be working for the Red Cross to catch me on the corner where I wasn’t supposed to be, and hand me five dollars, like, “Take your ass to the store and get some food. You’re not supposed to be here.”
My O.G.’s did that for me. They looked out for me, even though I wasn’t their blood. True story — I never had a real NBA jersey growing up. My O.G. Buckwheat gave me one straight off his back. Literally took it off, handed it to me. For nothing.
You know whose jersey it was?
Ain’t that crazy? Imagine telling Zo, “Couple years from now, this broke-ass kid from Liberty City is coming for your rebounding record, bro!!!!!!!”
And you know, Buckwheat … let’s just say he didn’t have a regular job. But he always made sure I was good. All around me, I had people like that. In the middle of the struggle, we had each other’s back. Sometimes people look at the inner city like it’s all crabs in a bucket, like it’s every man for himself, but that’s not the full picture.
We survived because there was always somebody willing to come pick you up at four o’clock in the morning, no questions asked. There was always somebody willing to give you the shirt off their back, or the basketball shoes off their feet, or the last five dollars in their pocket.
Can we really say we got that same feeling of solidarity right now, as a country?
I look around on social media, in the middle of this disaster, and I see a lot of people talking about “me,” you know what I’m saying?
My way of life.
If we don’t start talking about us, then a lot of people are going to suffer.
You know how many kids would hit me up in my DMs every day, before all this went down, talking about, “Hey UD, you got a job for me? I know you own some Subways. I’m just trying to get some money for my family.”
I’m no doctor, or no politician, or no public health expert. But I know one thing, man. We all got a responsibility to those kids.
So where my O.G.’s at? Who gonna step up for them?
I got two ideas for you.
If you can afford to donate some money to support meals for the kids who really need it, help out the people at Feeding South Florida.
Every $1 provides about six meals for people who really need our help right now.
If you can’t? (And believe me, I understand if you can’t.) If you can’t, you can do something real simple.
If you got a roof over your head and some food in your fridge and you don’t have to go to work to feed your family, just do the easiest thing in the world, man.
F*** your spring break.
Just keep your ass at home.