Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
Lost on the road to Jena
By NICOLE HUTCHESON, Times Staff Writer
Published October 7, 2007
We were on the road to Jena to join the civil rights movement of the 21st century.
I was traveling with some Omega Psi Phi fraternity men from the Tampa Bay area who had rented an RV for the trek. From Tampa it was almost 900 miles to the small central Louisiana town, where arguably the biggest civil rights protest in years was unfolding.
But there was a problem: We didn't have a map.
A few hours into the trip one of the fraternity brothers opened his laptop and asked me to copy down MapQuest directions. I was baffled that these men could have embarked on such an important journey with neither a map nor a printed route.
It was an early sign that they were sorely lacking a sense of direction - unfortunately, like so many in my generation.
Jena was a hot story, one I was excited to cover. It had started with nooses in a tree in front of Jena's high school followed by weeks of racist innuendo that boiled over into a big fight. And now six black teens faced 15 years in prison for beating up a white teen.
Thousands were planning to meet in Jena to protest the stiff charges. It was a reminder that race still matters in America, and here I was, with the confidence of my editors that I could take the measure of this place and deliver a story.
For the throngs making the pilgrimage, it was as if we were paying homage to those who had gone before us in the civil rights struggle. I think about the Freedom Riders, who faced angry mobs while driving through the most dangerous parts of Jim Crow's South. And the Young Lords, a group of young Puerto Rican and black activists in New York in the '60s who marched and protested somberly for the most basic of things: a day care center, a textbook for every child, trash collection in their neighborhoods.
Racism for me and my generation has often been subtle, a supervisor, for example, telling me how he liked my relaxed straight hair better than those cornrows. Or the overzealous state trooper who harassed me after I had made a wrong turn on a Virginia dirt road. "You're in the wrong part of town," he told me.
Still, our generation enjoys opportunities our ancestors could only dream of. As young upwardly mobile black adults, my generation has reaped the bounty given us by the blood and sacrifice of those who came before. Yet with all the blessings we now enjoy, this bus trip to Jena makes me think we still don't quite have it together.
The first sign that something was wrong was the beer that the photographer spotted one of the "bruhs," as the fraternity men call each other, sipping when we drove up to the meeting spot. He wasn't the driver, I thought to myself. Besides, it's a road trip.
But I couldn't deny that we were running late. It was close to 8 p.m. when I looked at my watch and the door of the RV slammed in Tampa. The sun had gone down and inside the RV was dim. I glanced around and realized I'd never been inside one.
It looked big on the outside, but inside it was a narrow slither of a space. A small fridge, microwave and table made up the middle. There was a tiny bathroom with a shower. In the rear was a full-sized bed. The air conditioner hadn't started kicking yet and it was sticky hot.
I had worked all day before heading on this trip, so sleep was on my mind. But I wasn't sure how that would work out. There were eight of us on board: four guys, two women, I and a Times photographer, also a woman. The group ranged in age from 29 to one man in his 40s. There were a grade school teacher, real estate agent, business owner and some college students. I thought about how successful black men like these have had such a small voice in the media. The idea of collecting hours of rich quotes and insight was exciting.
"When you decide to go, you go," said the organizer of the trip, a 30-something grade school teacher. The thought to travel to Jena came to him the night before. He called up a few frat brothers and put together the plan.
"I started learning about the trial in July," another bruh told me. "I said, 'I'm not going to miss this one.' "I'm not identifying anyone because my intention is not to embarrass individuals but to tell a broader story.
The bruhs explained to me that fighting for what's right is a big part of being an Omega. Through the years, groups like these - historically black organizations that came into existence out of necessity - have driven civil rights movements. The Omegas formed in 1911 at Howard University. Some of the guys on the RV have participated in other civil demonstrations but nothing this big. To me such marches were like Santa Claus - I wanted to believe, but it took imagination.
It was about midnight when we approached north Florida. It was raining and the RV needed an alignment.
"They're back there with a bottle of Crown Royal," the photographer whispered to me.
I snapped back at my colleague, "What do you want me to do about it?"
Inside I am embarrassed that the photographer is growing increasingly uncomfortable around these men. They know they'll have to drive eventually. Why make the choice to drink, I thought to myself, especially in front of someone with a camera.
On top of that, there was the business with the laptop when one of the "bruhs" asked me to write down directions to Jena. This wasn't my job, but I needed to get to Jena as much as they did, so I flipped to a clean page of my notebook and started writing.
Luckily the Crown sippers stayed in the rear of the RV and the photographer seemed to mellow a bit. Still, thoughts of no map, a slick road and hard liquor kept sleep at bay for me.
At 2 a.m. my eyes were wide open. Close to 3 a.m. we pulled into a gas station in Tallahassee to pick up two more frat brothers. One boarded the bus holding a partly consumed bottle of Wild Irish Rose. The bus was instantly loud with trash talking.
Eventually they all crowded into the middle of the RV and began singing fraternity songs. Sprinkled with vulgarity, some sounded more like drinking songs to me. I stayed in the back with the photographer while the guys downed another bottle of Crown.
I was torn between feeling privileged at having insight into the inner workings of this group, fear for my safety and shame. At that moment I began to sense that this group was more focused on partying than purpose. I'm not sure what this was about, but it didn't seem to be civil rights.
I stopped asking questions about why they were going to Jena and instead began to flood my notebook with the ink of what I was actually seeing. One of the frat brothers, whom I later learned lied to me about being in the fraternity, peeked at my notebook and noticed I'd written some of the lyrics from the drinking song. He was incensed. In his mind, I'd betrayed them somehow by writing what I was experiencing. He accused me of being on the trip merely to "get a story."
I'm a journalist, I told him. Yes, I was there to get a story. But he didn't know this: I was the one who pitched this idea of riding on the RV to my editors. I had e-mailed friends asking if they knew anyone from the area going to Jena. When a friend said a few Omegas were going, I figured this would be a good group to follow: some young brothers on a mission. I certainly wasn't expecting the story I was recording in my notebook.
After our heated conversation, we both sat in the dark on the bumpy ride not saying a word. Another driver took the wheel. This time it was the one I had seen holding a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. He tried to make the best of the directions he had been given as we rode along in the wee hours. In the back of my mind I tried to make what they were doing right, but I couldn't.
Is this my generation? I wondered, as if seeing it clearly for the first time.
As the sun rose, I struggled with the facts in my notebook and my original intentions for the trip. We were behind schedule, and the morning hours on the RV were filled with more wrong turns. The men were reluctant to pick up a Louisiana map. As a result, it was close to 4 p.m. when we reached Jena. The march had taken place at 10 that morning.
I exhaled when I saw the Welcome to Jena sign. It meant we were only minutes from the city's courthouse, where the rally had taken place. I was sleep-deprived and wearing pretty much the same clothes as the day before. The brothers got out and posed in front of the sign, doing their fraternity hand sign. They shifted in a myriad of positions for the cameras.
As I watched them pose, I saw ebbing away any chance to make an impact with my story and their chance to make an impact with their actions.
I was crushed that we'd missed the march. Not so for many of my road buddies. They didn't seem bothered that by the time we pulled into Jena scores of marchers were loading their buses and leaving.
"We made it," said one bruh. "That's what counts."
Hadn't we disregarded our purpose for most of the trip and in so doing disrespected ourselves? I wasn't convinced at all that we had "made it."
To be clear, this isn't an indictment of my entire generation or of every one of my traveling mates. In fact, there was a brother on board who I could tell took the mission seriously. He called me afterward and thanked me for coming along on the ride.
Days later I thought about a conversation I recently had with a friend, another young professional black woman. She was weary from defending Michael Vick all day at her corporate job. He was a victim, she said, a young black man given millions and left to his own devices. Sure, he had fought some dogs, but it was the NFL's job to look after him better - like a father minding his child. On top of that, the judicial system is always on the hunt for a young rich black man, she said. I disagreed. I don't care if he's black, pink or orange, what Vick did was wrong. He was the one who squandered his golden opportunity. While I'm not saying he should go to jail for years, I'm certainly not about to defend him.
It's the same with some rap lyrics. I'm a hip-hop head, but for all my love of the genre, I get tired of rappers' trying to justify their misogynistic lyrics by blaming the record companies that pay them millions. They fail to factor in the price their conscience will one day pay for adding to the degradation of black women, children and our communities.
It all boils down to this: While we fight for what's right, we must not gloss over our own wrongs. We must own them in order to move past them.
As we grapple with the civil rights issues of the 21st century, such as 800,000 black men in prison and 70 percent of black children born out of wedlock, we've got to be clear-headed and purposeful. That's why, in the end, I decided to write what I experienced on the RV - straight, no chaser.
Shortly after arriving in Jena, I told the bruhs on the bus that the photographer and I had decided to fly back to Tampa, too beleaguered to face another day on the RV. They were irritated that we were bailing on them. I was irritated that they refused to focus on their own failures.
Next time we're on the civil rights path, we'd better have a compass and a clue.