Merely walking home after school required strategic planning in East St. Louis. It was never wise to walk home alone. Everyone knew, almost instinctually, that you needed to walk in packs. There was safety in the pack. Traveling alone made you a target to predators. Thieves, gang bangers, child molesters or worse The Johnson kids. The Johnsons were a family of kids that just like to fight. They had perfected fighting into an art form. They would separate one kid from the pack and like lions, they would all jump on him and take everything he had, including valuables, dignity and self respect. I believe they had a weekly quota of the number of people they had to beat up which they were diligent about meeting. Any kid walking alone was an easy target.
One day winter day, I was playing with my new wristwatch battle tank game. If you didn't grow up in the 80's you will have to Google it for details. Trust me, it was very cool. Well, I was caught up in the game and lagged behind the group. Out of nowhere, SMACK! I felt a hard cold pain in the back of my head. The snow water started running down my back. I had been hit with a snowball. Immediately, I turned around and started using all the curse words I knew. As I turned, I realized I was face to face with Robert Johnson with his brothers standing behind him.
Robert was my age. He was in the 7th grade also. I knew Robert, but he did not play chess. And he was not in the Gifted Program. So, until now, our paths had never crossed. He was a little guy but he had the all the meanness of a full-blooded Johnson. It seemed as if this was his rites of passage ceremony and I was his challenge.
So, there I stood face to face with Robert Johnson and 3 or 4 of his brothers. We exchanged loud words, then stares, pushes and then...within seconds a crowd of a hundred kids surrounded us. It's amazing how that happens. Lucky for me, on this day I had been walking with my brother and a group of his friends, who were older and bigger than the Johnson kids. They jumped into the crowd and defended me from what would have surely been a typically Johnson family beat down.
A funny thing happened that day. Robert and I didn’t have a full-blown fight. However, we did help each other. His willingness to fight a bigger kid allowed him to pass his challenge. And my willingness to fight the whole Johnson Clan gained me notoriety with hundreds of kids.
So here’s the lesson, there are some fights you can’t void. Life itself is a tough battle. Everyday, we fight with decisions, time and resources. And sometimes, unexpected situations arise and hit you in the head. You may turn around and see a situation that appears to be more than you can handle. So, here’s my advise to you now. Surround yourself with people who can help you stand face to face with those challenge. Walk with people who have your best interest at heart. Invest in relationships with people who have been through some struggles who know how to fight and can show you a few things. More than that surround yourself with people who will stand behind you while you engage the fights of your life. Surround yourself with fighters.