Caged Birds and Broken Wings:<br />
Laveranues Coles on Black Boys and the Silence of Child Molestation

Laveranues Coles

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you genuinely believe you are the only person in the world this is happening to. Knowing I wasn't alone would have given me a pathway out.

EBONY: What would you say to young kids who believe the lies? Who think they deserve their own victimization?

LC: That's what the person tells you. As if you deserve it. And as a child you believe what the abuser is telling you. You believe it's your fault. Or that you wanted it. It's sick and twisted, but as a child you believe it, because in your mind what adults say is true. But you are the victim. A child does not have a choice.

What would I tell a kid today? First, I'd say talk about it. Tell a teacher you totally trust. In my situation it was difficult because I feared he would harm my mother. And there are kids like me who are so afraid to speak. But if you can, tell somebody.

EBONY: What did get you through? What was in you? What happened that helped you make it?

LC: Sports was very important in my family. And it was my only outlet. But the most important thing was my drive to be successful despite what happened to me. I didn't fall into the trap of making excuses for myself. I knew from a very early age that the only way to conquer it was to succeed. And failure was not an option.

EBONY: But what kept you focused? Success is a subjective concept: it's different for everyone. What gave you that razor-sharp ability to succeed?

LC: The main thing that kept me focused was having kids of my own. Your perceptions change once you're the parent. It's why I became friends with Tyler (Perry). He talked to me about not allowing it to keep me from experiencing the life I ought to live. Talking about it with someone who had lived through it gave me a new perspective.

EBONY: How many kids do you have? Are you married?

LC: I have two sons; and sadly, no I'm not married. I think my past has alot to do with that. I went through a phase as a young man where I became promiscuous. I felt I had to prove myself, to show that what had happened to me didn't define me. And that it hadn't taken away my manhood.

EBONY: These situations are always difficult to negotiate. And damage is done regardless of how long or how far the abuse goes. What's the lesson?

LC: Two things: your manhood isn't affected. It's a lie I used to believe and so many people believe it to their own detriment. You don't have anything to prove to anyone. Instead, use it as motivation. Use it to strengthen yourself. You're not less of man because this happened to you. Everyone has their issues and their own pain, and this for me - or for us - is our burden to bear. But we are strong enough to conquer it.

EBONY: As the father of two sons how do you protect them? How do you create a space of love so that they'd always be able to tell you if something like this ever happened to them?

LC: The relationship I've developed with my kids, I know they wouldn't flinch telling me something like that. The fear many kids have is whether their parents will believe them. That's not good.

Parents must do their part by creating avenues to trust and honesty, so the child knows they will be believed and that they will be protected.

EBONY: What signs would you tell parents to look for? And what advice would you give to Black mothers in particular?

LC: Look for drastic changes in your child's behavior. They may become rebellious, but it's not just puberty. And their grades may change because they're no longer motivated. What was a close relationship with your kid may start to feel like a distant one. They may want to be around you; they may want to tell you, but are too afraid to speak.

EBONY: Football is such a hyper-masculine sport, driven by testosterone and fueled by anger. Did you ever fear the reactions of fellow NFL players after you were honest about your childhood?

LC: No, not at all. But that doesn't mean there weren't reprecussions. Guys on the football field said things to me like "What kind of gay mess is that?" and "Why would you bring that up?". Afterwards, I remember a girl sending me flowers and guys in the lockerroom laughing and saying they were from my boyfriend.

I knew the sport I was in. I understand the macho culture, so I knew there would be some backlash. But my take is this: you can't change people's minds. You can only live your life. If some people want to be ignorant, then so be