The price he paid

In loving memory of Shanta (Shawn) Sparks, Jan. 14, 1977 – May 9, 2010

by Ebony Sparks

Sparks-family, The price he paid, Culture Currents “Ain’t nothing free in this world, babe. Everybody gotta pay to play. The only issue is that most of us is broke to begin with. And we’ll take what we need, from anybody we can, just to get in the game.”

This is a statement my husband made to me just two days before he was murdered – no, assassinated – on Third Street on Mother’s Day.

I could be angry right now. I could have vengeance in my heart. I could wish death on his shooter. But guess what, I do not. I am a strong Black woman, always have been, since way before I even knew what it meant. I’ve witnessed so much misery and self-destruction in this community that I’ve almost become numb to it. And when the numbness subsides, even with the physically painful sorrow, there is still love. Love is all that really matters.


Yes, there are rules in “the game.” There is the code of the streets that is preventing my children from getting justice. There is the “stop snitching” movement that has witnesses petrified to testify. But there is also rule number one … a real nigga could never cross another real nigga, because respect will always outweigh animosity.

I am angered and saddened and devastated because my husband was not a gang member, he was not a bully, he was not a coward, he had breathed life into a friend of his a couple years ago who lay dying on LaSalle Avenue, trying to save his life … and not one person who watched him die felt it in their hearts to return the favor.

Even still, I love my people. And although this man stole my husband’s future from him – my son’s first football game, my daughter’s first date, my baby’s first day at kindergarten – he is still one of my people … and so, he is mine to love, all the same.

God has brought me through so much tragedy. Shawn and I were just speaking to his cousin about the day her boyfriend was murdered with her children and mother-in-law in the car. She told me, “Nobody understands what I’m feeling. I just need somebody to understand.” I told her that I would be there no matter what, and that one day, if she could find the words to explain it to me, I would try my best to understand.

And then it happened to me. “Shawn got shot. Get to General Hospital.” Somewhere, deep down, I knew he was already gone.

He had just left my house less than an hour before to take a relative home after Mother’s Day dinner and when time passed and I went to call his phone to check on their progress, to see whether they had made it safe, and whether he was on his way back home, his cell phone was off. DEAD. I think I even called the police station, just to see if he had gotten pulled over without his license again … but somehow I knew. I knew.

Shawn’s mother died from cancer about four years ago, and when she left, she took a part of him with her. He had started working full time, going to school, coming home before dark and he took on the primary role as parent for our two toddlers while I carried our third child. But all of a sudden, he was back at that “I don’t give a fuck anymore” mentality, back to sobbing to himself in the bathroom when he thought nobody heard him, back to the addictions and bad habits that he had fought since we met and back to staring at me with tears in his eyes, touching my face like it was the last time. And all this was way before that bullet took his life. Shawn left with Belinda, and she left me “Sparks” to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, ‘til death.

Like a lot of women, I held on for dear life. I held onto my soulmate. My best friend. My children’s man in the moon. I held on because he was trying to get me to just let him go, to just let him suffer and die because it hurt just that much for him to be without her. I felt him but I still refused. I didn’t let him go because he refused to give up on the hard-headed, smart mouthed, Black power yelling lil’ woman complex carrying fool that he loved to pieces. I refused, just like he refused to leave my side when I got those phone calls telling me that another of my friends or family was gonna be buried and he even refused to let me give up when the police threatened our lives because of stories I had written in this same paper. He never gave up on me, and I intended to never give up on him.

It was bliss just to be us. But truth is that we were a match made in hell. Two titanic survivors drowning in the chaos of our own lives, keeping each other afloat. We held on because we needed each other to make it. But we were being eaten alive by sharks at the same time. Jealousy, infidelity, financial problems, cutthroat friends and so-called family … issues that we faced together but that were tearing the both of us up inside.

The end was inevitable.

Shawn had stopped hanging out on Third Street about a year ago. He didn’t trust the friends who he had rode for in his adolescence. Friends who claimed to love him but who had turned on him when he needed them the most. The truth is, he knew they hated him. Even the ones who had struggled with him, relatives who had shared the same couch and back-flipped on the same pissy mattresses with him. They hated to see him become a man but he made sure that they saw it, even if they had to watch it from afar.

Sparks the man wasn’t who they wanted to know. What they wanted was that snotty nosed little boy who they could call to do dirt, that “nephew” or “bruh bruh” who would get high with them when they were too cowardly to face their own family issues or even speak to their own children in the streets! They wanted him on their level, and he had far surpassed it.

People hated to see the Sparks who didn’t have to hustle. They hated to see him in a new car every other month. Hated to see those brand new Jordans coming, those Ed Hardy fits that they couldn’t figure out how he could afford, hated to see him with his beautiful children and his wife – and spread rumors around about pregnant mistresses who never materialized and called my phone insulting him to try to split us apart. But even with all that hate eating him up inside, it broke his heart to walk away. Because he loved them more than he loved himself, and he loved this hood like he built it with his bare hands.

I’m 28 years old, a mother of three, a dedicated wife, an educated militant, an activist, a mentor and best friend to everyone I’ve ever met. But now I am a widow!

He loved this hood like he built it with his bare hands.

My friends and family call me a superhero. But with all the cape draping I’ve been doing, working with youth and young adults, being Dr. Phil to every friend or family member with a story to tell, and providing a warm plate and a stable roof for those who didn’t have either, I could NOT save my husband from these streets. And watching him slowly slip away was the price I paid for being able to be all that I am and all that I will be. His death has given me more drive, more motivation, more ambition and faith than I ever knew I could fit in my body.

I severely wish God would just give him back. I’d like to think that if given the chance, I’d turn my back on this city, this neighborhood, this turf war ridden, drug addicted, poverty infested, police occupied, oppressed community in a minute! Just so I could have him back. Just so I would have a reason to keep breathing, because other than my children, it was his body next to mine every morning and that big-lipped smile that made me thank God for the sunrise. But since I know that’s not going to happen, I have come to terms with the fact that no matter what this world takes from me, I would never EVER stop giving my people everything I got.

Even as I write this, teary eyed, angry and regretful, I am optimistic about what the future holds for my hood.

I’ve broken down … cried ‘til my bones hurt. I’ve watched my children and his oldest son nearly double over in grief. Cry out to God to please return their father, asking my mother to call the police so that they can bring their daddy’s body back with them home, because even having him with them dead was better than not having him at all.

The truth is, I only am half the woman today that I was that Mother’s Day before he left me, laughing and joking and promising “I’ll be right back.” Because it was him who made me a mother. Him that proposed three times, even after an argument caused me to throw my first engagement ring out of a 12-story window. It was he who held my hand, who rubbed my belly, who sang to his unborn children and who made me love him more than life itself. He who told me that he knew he was destined to die in the streets, that it was his first son who had saved his life at 17, and that I was the gift that he would keep forever because every day we were together I was saving his life. He told me he lived for us – me and his kids. And if he did ever leave me, it would be to go and be with his mother.

“You won’t never have to look for me, ‘cause I’ll be with you forever. Even from the grave, I will never let you go.”

He was a man. Flawed and confused and learning as he went. He was a good boyfriend, a dedicated husband and a damn good father! And it was him that helped to make me into the soldier that I am today. So when night falls, I am missing him like a paraplegic misses his legs. Like although he has been taken from me, I still feel him there, phantom pain – a light brush on the side of my face while I’m sleeping, a squeeze on my shoulders while I sit at Third and Innes in deep thought, staring at the spot where he slipped into heaven. And now I have to accept that although he can never be replaced, I have to learn to get up and walk again.

It was him that helped to make me into the soldier that I am today.

I wouldn’t wish this pain on anyone. Even in my grief, I am still touched by the tears of those who didn’t get to say goodbye. The youngsters on the corner, starting on the same path he did, and those who used his death as a catalyst to change directions; his friends and family who remembered him in his worst moments but never ever got to see him grow and give and love like we did. The cousin who he was only trying to get home, who relives his last moments in her dreams, who has tried to save his life every night since he was shot, and is now afraid for her own life and that of her child.

I am most sad for them.

But even with all the tears I’ve cried, I still wouldn’t wish this agony on his murderer’s family. Because even though he robbed us of what could have been, he did not rob us of what was, and what is! Our love, his love … this love will never ever die.

I want to tell him that I am sorry that he felt the only way for him to express his anger was to snatch away a life that meant so much to so many. I want to tell him how sorry I am that no matter how long he lives, he will never be able to bring back what he took and that that in itself is a burden only he can carry. And it is a heavy, heavy burden to bear on the same streets that held his victim in such high regard. For each who hated Shawn, there were hundreds more who couldn’t help but love him.

I am sorry for him, but I also want to thank him. Thank him for making our love eternal. Because what I felt for Shawn when he left me is the same as I feel for him now and the same way I will feel about him forever. I want to tell him that I do not hate him because I have faith that our love was what carried my husband where he needed to be and that this love is timeless, limitless, unconditional and it transcends this time and space. I can only hope that he experiences the same joy when it is his time to meet our father who art in Heaven. And lastly I want to thank him for giving me another reason to drape my cape and push hard towards saving lives like my husband’s. And if I cannot save them, I want to thank him for giving me a reason to get out my car and smile at them through my tears, embrace them through my grief and love them, when nobody believes that I should. Thank him for making my husband’s words ring true.

Everybody has to pay in the end. Nothing is free and Shawn paid with the only thing he had left to give. His life. I believe that if God could sacrifice his son for the love of his people, it is only right that I accept that my husband’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of all of our sons, fathers, brothers, lovers, husbands and friends are only a means to an end to this struggle that is killing us all softly.

It is never too late for any man to repent, to reform, to renew. Never too late to make reparations for the lives he’s destroyed or the hearts he’s broken. But in the end those payments must be made to God, to Allah, to whoever that higher power is that drives him.

I believe that if God could sacrifice his son for the love of his people, it is only right that I accept that my husband’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of all of our sons, fathers, brothers, lovers, husbands and friends are only a means to an end to this struggle that is killing us all softly.

I don’t need his apology, and I don’t need retaliation to feel like my husband’s life was not lived or taken in vain. I don’t need it because I have always known this to be true: Shawn’s body is gone, but what is left of him is the best of him. And we have all suffered enough and for far too long.

Ebony Colbert Sparks, formerly the Bay View’s managing editor (until our bank account ran dry – ed.) and one of our most popular writers ever, has just begun working at BAYCAT, the Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology, at 2415 Third St., Suite 230, San Francisco, (415) 701-8228, where youngsters age 11-17 can learn to use all the latest technology and equipment to create and edit their own films, videos, animation, music and graphic design online or on paper to tell their own stories, win justice for their community and prepare for exciting careers – even stardom. BAYCAT also offers paid internships for young people 18-24. Many opportunities to participate this summer are still available. Email Ebony at