By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor
Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward – and ours, too.
They buried little eight-year-old Martin Cobb, Jr. here in Richmond (Va.) on Friday afternoon. Rev. Theodore L. Hughey, pastor of Abundant Life Church, praised the youngster for his courage and then went on to condemn the community and the bureaucrats who oversee it for letting crime fester and forgetting about the children who suffer from it. A handmade sign above the tiny coffin read “Pound for pound, year for year, few greater heroes … if any.”
And little Martin, as his neighbors in the Mosby Court public housing project knew him, was a hero. A small stature caused by an open heart surgery while he was just three-months-old hid a fighting spirit. Many neighbors thought he was only three or four years old. One of them, Harry Hunter, recalled that “He was so small, I used to carry him in my book bag.”
But no one “carried” Little Martin on Thursday evening a week ago when he died defending his sister from a sexual attack at the hands of an alleged 16-year-old sexual predator who, at his young age, had already been charged with viciously assaulting another young boy and has suffered mental health issues.
Marty and his eleven-year-old sister were devoted to each other. Growing up without a father figure and living with a mother who worked to sustain them, they stuck together. Local proprietors recalled the two stopping by in the afternoon to indulge Marty’s rather modest vice for “Hot Fries,” a fast-food snack with a kick of Tabasco. Mosby Court is one of Richmond’s toughest neighborhoods plagued with crime and drugs so the two were always together out of love for each other and fear of the surroundings.
On Thursday evening last, love and fear would intersect at the children’s home on Brandon Road with horrific consequences. Then, according to press accounts, 16-year-old Mairese Jershon Washington, burst into the residence allegedly intent on sexually assaulting Marty’s sister. Confronted with the invasion, Little Martin fought back with all that his four-foot frame would muster. It took a brick to the head and a strangler’s hold to stop the young boy. His assailant retreated, but not before dumping Martin’s little body on the railroad tracks behind his home.
Mourners here Friday were sad and proud. “As soon as he could talk, I told (him) he’s the man of the house. That’s what he did. He’s a hero,” his mother said. “I’m proud of him. I’m proud that he stuck up for his sister. He did what he was taught,” family friend Geraline Pitchford added. Another neighbor Sudan Aunu said, “To have the courage to defend his sister as if he was a grown man. His sister is alive today because of him.”
Rev. Hughey’s words struck some as off the point Friday or a disservice to the heroism of the victim. But were they really? How can a community allow a crime infested neighborhood to wallow decade after decade and do little if anything to address the real problems of poverty, lack of father figures, and unaddressed mental health issues. Virginia has been sorely lacking in answers for all three and it took a highly publicized case of State Senator Cree Deeds’ maiming at the hands of his mentally ill son to even raise the issue of shoddy mental health treatment. Poverty and unstable homes bear hardly a mention in this southern city where conservative policies rule and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is deemed an article of faith yet only a historical reality for the second and third generation monetized elite who run the town. Rev. Hughey was calling that out and trying make Marty’s death mean more than an icon of family fidelity and intrepidity. He wanted the second grader’s death to bring change. But change for the benefit of the city’s children, it seems, takes more courage than even Martin’s selfless act can accomplish. It takes a community’s courage not just one small person’s. At least, the community has a blueprint for that change now.
A memorial fund has been established in Little Martin’s name at the Wells Fargo Bank called the “Keys For Marty” fund here in Richmond. Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo branch.
Source: Richmond Times Dispatch
~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor