Monday 5th March 2012
“GUNS had always been around in my community. I remember stealing a car when I was fifteen. Under the seat there was a box, and there was an air hand gun in it. It gave me a lot of power in the playground until my mum found it and told me to get rid of it.”
Michael’s mother died last May. He’s no longer on Facebook, but I’ll track him down somehow; go see him when next in London. We owe each other a hug.
He’s gone missing before, mind. Back in 1985, for example:
“An officer knocked on the door, and I threatened him. I had only been out of prison for two months and did not want to be caught with a gun. I closed the door on the officer, wiped the gun down, left it on the side and jumped out of the back window.”
I met him in Cheltenham, about a decade later: a polite, hesitant young man; there with friends to take part in the UK Allcomers Poetry Slam; didn’t expect him to get beyond the qualifying round.
“Fled to my sister’s house. Hid there for three days. Then I turned the television on. I saw my grandmother, crying. Then the news flash – my mother had been shot.”
On stage, though, he was brilliant: raw, uncomplicated words about a black kid’s Brixton upbringing: drugs, crime, tensions. Posh Cheltenham Town Hall held its breath. I kept thinking, where’ve I heard the name Groce before?
So Michael was not at home on the morning of the police raid, when one of the officers shot his mother. She was paralysed from the waist down.
“This is for my Mum,” he said, quietly, before delivering his event-winning final poem: never told us she was called Cherry, never sought our sympathy, just spoke to us of her love for him, of his for her.
The shooting sparked riots. Michael gave himself up, got three years, suspended, for possession of a fire-arm.
The poem was published in The Voice. Ever since he’s dedicated himself to local initiatives, helping others, inspiring kids with his Cherry Blossoms workshops.
We’ve not seen each other for some years. Time for another hug. I miss him.