CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:Lessons include how we treat others

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal

JACKSON - The Pearl High School tragedy that resulted in three deaths and seven injured students on Oct. 1 left me remembering Lester from my school days.

Like Luke Woodham, who eyewitnesses said walked into Pearl High School earlier this month and shot to death two fellow students and injured seven others, Lester was the object of cruel and vicious jokes by his classmates. Like Luke Woodham, Lester must have felt alienated.

But that is where the similarities between Luke Woodham and Lester end.

Unlike Luke Woodham, Lester did not have any friends. There might have been people who actually spoke to him in a pleasant tone and who did not make vicious jokes about him as he attended class at West Jones High School, but I am almost certain that he did not have anybody to hang out with on Friday and Saturday nights. He did not have anybody to cruise with up and down Old Bay Springs Road in Laurel looking for the prettiest girl or at least looking for a girl who showed an interest in striking up a conversation.

Lester probably never would have dreamed of catching the eye of a girl at a stop sign on a summer night, convincing the girl to pull over and talking the girl into cruising with him. Heck, Luke Woodham even had a girlfriend at one time. She was one of the two people eyewitnesses said he shot to death.

And apparently, Luke Woodham had several other close friends. It seems that these friends - like Woodham - felt alienated and felt they were treated unfairly at Pearl. Six of those friends have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Woodham's Oct. 1 act of desperation that left his mother dead with a slashed throat and left two dead from gunshots at Pearl High School.

No. Lester never did anything like that. He just took it. Every damn school day, he took it - the constant cruelty - from the time he stepped on the school bus at about 7:30 a.m. until the time he got off at about 3 p.m.

It wasn't that Lester was too skinny, too fat, too smart, too dumb or too white or too black, which are some of the reasons we often mistreat each other.

Lester's source of mistreatment apparently was some type of skin disease. I am not talking about acne here - even though that is enough to send a teen-ager into fits of rage. Lester's face and arms - his whole body I guess - were covered in sores. And to top that off, rumor was that Lester had this rather strong body odor because his skin condition kept him from taking regular baths.

To be perfectly blunt, it was a struggle to look at Lester or to be near him.

Heck, I don't even remember Lester's last name. And I don't really remember what happened to him. But I don't believe he was still at West Jones by the time I reached my final two years of high school. And it really wouldn't do me any good to try to find him in the West Jones Yearbook because I seriously doubt Lester had his picture taken.

Truth be known, I remember very little about Lester. I guess I can take a little solace in knowing I never picked on him. Lucille and Troy Harrison would not have tolerated that.

I once had to share a seat with Lester on the bus. Throughout that terrible 20-minute journey, I stared straight ahead, fearing that my friends might make fun of me because I had to sit with Lester. I hated Lester that day.

Looking back, the turmoil and despair that child suffered must have been nearly unbearable. No doubt, Woodham suffered cruelties that I pray my children never have to face. I hope we all learn from this Pearl tragedy that we should teach our children not only to be responsible, but that all of God's children should be treated with respect and dignity.

But alienation - like everything else in life - is relative. Lester probably would have been thankful to have had six friends as close as Woodham and his group must have been. He also probably would have been thankful to have had a date.

Despite Lester's problems, I don't remember him hurting anyone. I just remember how mean we can be to each other.

Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau Chief.

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