Why I can't stop thinking about Whitney


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This has been a heck of an eventful day. Doug Bruce is going to the slammer. City Attorney Chris Melcher just let Council know that the only way they can force the mayor to spend money on a specific item is if it's considered a "major legislative budget determination" (whatever that means). And Budget Director Lisa Bigelow has been put on a 30-day adminstrative leave — with Chief of Staff Laura Neumann assuring this reporter that the move has nothing to do with the fact that Bigelow released an inflamatory e-mail revealing the mayor's apparent attempt to sidestep Council authority. Hmmm.

Why then, am I thinking about Whitney Houston?

In a way, it's inexplicable. I was never a huge Houston fan, though I always thought she had a fantastic voice. But since hearing of her death over the weekend, I find I haven't been able to stop thinking about her.

Today, while sitting in a City Council meeting, it occurred to me why my thoughts kept circling back to her. Back in the early 1990s, at the height of Houston's fame, I was in middle school in Denver. I walked to school from my home in a quiet neighborhood, but most of the kids at my school were bused in from the inner city.

They were tough kids — far tougher than I was used to, far tougher then most kids I see today. This was around the time of the Summer of Violence, a time in which 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds were routinely being given life sentences for brutal murders.

Even in my neighborhood, there was a shootout between rival gangs in a nearby park. Plenty of the kids I went to school with were in gangs. Most were minorities. Most were poor.

While I was bothered by the violent tide sweeping over my school, and the nation as a whole, I could also sense the desperation in my peers. There just wasn't much for them to look forward to. Not a lot of opportunities. Not a lot of hope.

The press portrayed the young gangbangers as monsters, but the truth was, these were just kids looking for guidance and love. And here's where Houston came in — the singer was reprieve for my classmates, especially the girls. It wasn't unusual for a young girl to start wailing out the notes to "I Will Always Love You" on the playground. Completely at random. Completely full of joy.

Houston represented something amazing at that time. A black woman who was powerful, but also vulnerable. A woman who realized her sexual powers, but didn't exploit them. A person whose talents had made her a movie star, and one of the biggest names in music.

Whitney Houston gave these girls a dream to chase after in an otherwise bleak world.

I was disappointed to see Houston waste away on drugs. It seemed like such a powerful irony that she would succumb to the very devils that my school pals admired her for rising above. When I heard that she had ruined her voice with the drug use, the dismay dug deeper. A God-given gift, tossed away.

Now, thinking of her lying lifeless in a bathtub at 48, I shudder. Not just for Houston, but for the dream that died with her. For the girls who tracked every twist of her acrobatic vocal cords with glee, with determination, and with a sense that perhaps all wonderful things are possible.


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