Lawmaker uses his own childhood trauma to help Mid-South children

(WMC Action News 5)
Updated: Sep. 28, 2018 at 2:04 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - According to the American Medical Association, one in five children witnessed violence in their home or neighborhood during the previous year.

Those experiences, called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, could have lasting effects well into adulthood.

When you hear someone talk about their “aces," you probably think they’re referring to their close friends. What likely doesn’t come to mind is a little girl getting raped by her father, or a young boy watching his mother get beaten to death by her boyfriend.

Those horrific crimes are examples of adverse childhood experiences that unfortunately many Mid-South children go through.

Tennessee District 98 Representative Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson (D) survived his ACE, and now he hopes to help others.

"These little minds at that point are not set up or mature enough to deal with some of these traumatic events that have happened in their lives and that’s the same thing that happened to me,” Parkinson said.

With his fedora tilted to the side, Parkinson may be one of the coolest Tennessee lawmakers his district has ever seen.

Instead of his state Capital suit and tie, he put on some jeans and a pair of gym shoes to walk WMC5’s Joy Redmond through the streets of Hollywood, one of the North Memphis neighborhoods he represents.

"A lot of children are facing these traumas as children (and) as babies and they’re never addressed or there’s never been any intervention,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson believes those traumas left untreated contribute to the root cause of juvenile crime, and he would know.

“At the age of 14, I went to jail in the 10th grade, on the last day of school because I brought a gun to school, because I was trying to protect myself--because I thought at 14 years old, this is the way to protect myself,” Parkinson said. “This is the way to keep the guys that were threatening me the whole school year from jumping on me. I want you to think about this, at 14 years old, it was my intent to shoot somebody’s child if they decided to raise a hand because my norm told me this is the way you protect yourself.”

The legislator, now age 50, grew up in Oakland, California, in a world where violence was the norm.

Despite being a standout athlete and otherwise good kid, his life experiences at the time led him to make a bad decision.

“That morning myself and my brother, my friend and his brother we had two guns, they had two guns, they brought the guns off their mother’s shelf,” Parkinson said. “They had two guns: one was a real one, one was a fake one. We’re were standing in a huddle, I’ll never forget this, they had both of them in the palm of their hands and he said which one you want, which one you want. I said give me the real one, because they were after me.”

Parkinson said a “snitch” saved his life.

"Thank God he told,” Parkinson said.

Instead of firing a gun that day, he was arrested and spent a day in jail.

He failed 10th grade and had a tough time for the rest of his high school years, but he said it was the intervention he needed.

"I was able to see that there is actually life outside of what my norm had become and I’ve adopted and accepted a new life and I want those 14-year-olds or adults to know there is life outside the bubble, you just got to get out of the bubble and see it,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson hopes that by sharing his story, parents seek intervention for their children before one ACE leads to another.

“I survived it for a reason, so I can help save somebody’s life,” Parkinson said.

School counselors, survivors and experts will offer resources for families looking to overcome adverse childhood experiences this weekend at The Block Party and Picnic for Peace.

The panel discussion is Saturday at 1:30 p.m., but the block party takes place all weekend at a new location this year at 3385 Austin Peay Highway.

For more information, click here.

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