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Near tragedy inspires mother to write life-affirming play

Jennifer Ffrench-Parker | 7/3/2014, 6:24 a.m.
Vanessa Morgan, a Stone Mountain author, poet and playwright, was driving home from the hairdresser on March 6, 2009, when ...
Vanessa Morgan (right) offers directions to the cast during rehearsal for “Finding My Happiness,” a two-act play coming to the Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center July 25-26. Her son, Malik, [in wheelchair] inspired the play and acts in it.

— Vanessa Morgan, a Stone Mountain author, poet and playwright, was driving home from the hairdresser on March 6, 2009, when her phone rang.

At the other end of the call was a social worker from Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

“She told me my son Malik had been shot and I was to come to the hospital as soon as possible,” she said.

A shocked Morgan headed to the hospital with lots of questions.

There she learned that he was shot about 3 p.m. at the Chevron station at the corner of Redan and South Hairston roads in Stone Mountain, about six miles from their home on Stephenson Road.

The shooting was drug-related.

“I knew he was hanging around with the wrong people but I was in denial,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe that he was doing that.”

Malik, then 23, was shot twice in the abdomen. His mother said one of the bullets ricocheted through his body and destroyed one of his kidneys and damaged the other as well as other internal organs and his spine.

“He was in surgery for five hours,” she recalled. “He was in a medically induced coma for three weeks. It was horrible.”

Malik survived but is paralyzed from the waist down. He now uses a wheelchair.

Morgan said it was a big wake-up call for her family, and she was left wondering how did this happen to her son who grew up in the suburbs in a middle-class neighborhood with two parents in the home.

“I thought my son was exempt from a life of crime living in a nice neighborhood, but I was wrong,” she said. “After much discussion with Malik, I realized something. As parents we have to keep a close eye on our children. The outside world sometimes has more influence on our kids than we do. We have to get to know the people our kids hang around and their parents. And most importantly, we have to see our kids for who they are and not who we want them to be.”

After the shooting, she began telling parents to ask an adult, teacher, family friend or someone they trust and who spends time with their child to give them a “reality check” on them.

“What do you think about my child?” she asked. “Is she/he a good person? The answer may not be what you want but at least it will be a starting point for any necessary changes.

“Like some African-American young men, he had hopes of becoming a rapper and started hustling [selling drugs] to support himself,” she said.

“I know a lot of the popular rappers have supported themselves selling drugs until they get a record deal. So many of our young men have followed this pattern and are attracted to a ‘gangster lifestyle’ because it looks glamorous from the outside. But the reality is the lifestyle has some really intricate consequences. Some people escape unharmed while others die, go to jail, or sustain irreversible injuries both physically and mentally.”