Sometimes events play out in ways that you never see coming, wish had never happened, but nonetheless stick with you as critical moments, conveying something important and special. Recently, such an event pulled in Albanians from a wide cross-section of our community, including yours truly. One such event was the search for 9-year-old Jyquez Miller.
On Tuesday, Jan. 5, Jyquez was reported missing.
Years ago, the only people that would have known about it so quickly would have been local law enforcement agencies, family members, and close friends. But this is 2010, and in just minutes, the rest of us knew he was lost via Internet social networks. That’s how I got involved.
I had just come home from work and sat down to check my e-mails before going to bed. There was a Facebook posting from WALB’s Karen Cohilas marked “urgent”, asking anyone that could, to ride out Gillionville Road toward Lockett Station and Beattie roads, and assist in the search for Jyquez.
Others had already begun the search effort shortly after his disappearance. Surely, they had found him by now and did not need anymore volunteers out looking. I was very tired, it was now late and dark, and it was very cold outside. Then, on instinct as a parent, I restructured that thought; Jyquez must be very tired, it was now late and dark, and it was very cold outside. I got dressed, found a flashlight, got my dog on the truck, and headed out.
As I drove, my mind kept flashing back to times when my own children were in trouble and needed me there. When my oldest was about the same age as Jyquez, she fell face-forward on the sidewalk while playing with friends in the apartment complex where I lived at the time. I should have been right there to catch her, but instead I was in the second-floor apartment, working on something I thought was important at the time. I heard her crying, and a knock at the door. The neighbor had walked her up the stairs. There was my angel, bleeding terribly from her mouth and knees, her front tooth chipped. That image and the look on her face will be with me forever.
Then I thought of the time when we took my youngest girl to the school playground on a Saturday for a fun little family outing. She was then, and still is, a child of energy, and wanted to show me how good she could move across the horizontal bars.
She took off running, and before I could get close enough, my other angel darted up the ladder and across. In a split second she lost her grip and hit the ground, fracturing her arm. I should have been underneath to catch her. I’ll never forget that moment either. Both can still wake me up at night.
As I arrived to the search area for Jyquez, it was obvious that many others were having the same kinds of thoughts. All that was known was that there was a child in danger. That’s all we had to know. I don’t think it was about trying to be a hero for anyone, or even an effort to do a good deed. It was simply a natural reaction from parents and concerned citizens. You could see cars and trucks slowly moving through neighborhoods, and small groups of people walking back allies and wooded areas. Flashlights and occasional shouts of “Jyquez!” cut the cold night air. It was an amazing display of our better nature. With all the concerns over crime and such in our city, this was one event, if we could help it, that was not going to end up badly. Early the next morning, Jyquez was found. When the news of his safe return spread, you could feel a tangible sense of victory over a bad circumstance.
Some still have questions about the details surrounding his disappearance, but there are two facts that are not in doubt. The first, and obviously most important, is that Jyquez Miller was found and returned to his family. The second fact, I don’t believe anyone out searching for Jyquez saw coming at all. Even after so many years of hardships, Albany still has a core of community that all the strife and darkness has not touched.
We have a lot of problems to face. We have prejudices and shortcomings to deal with in order for our city to move forward. We can be fractured and divided along economic and racial lines. But when we know that one of our own, in particular one of our youngest, black or white, rich or poor, is in harm’s way, we act.
We may never know what led Jyquez Miller to not go directly home after school that day, setting him on the path of a desperate and terrible ordeal that he will remember for a long time.
Do we really need to? I don’t think so.
What we do need to take from this is that Jyquez set many of his fellow Albanians on a quest for the child that showed us all something we desperately needed to see in ourselves as individuals and as community. Regardless of the distance, differences, and divisions, we still matter to each other.
Written by Lon McNeil. Mr. McNeil is an Albany independent marketing consultant. Find him online at AlbanyOnPoint.