By Dennis J. Freeman
This one hurts. When I take a look at photos and videos of Monte’ (M-Bone) Talbert, the revered dance member of the hit-making group Cali Swag District, I look in the mirror and see myself. I see my four sons. I see my nephews. I see my friends’ kids. I see my neighbor’s children-innocent and full of life.
I see the infectious energy that Cali Swag District’s monster hit “Teach Me How to Dougie” injected itself on the nation with its sense of cool fun. When I see Talbert, I see promise. I see positive energy. I see someone who enjoyed life.
I see aspirations and hopes of a young man trying to make it and do better for himself. I see the faces of thousands of young black men at work and in school hoping to break the relentless stereotypes labeling them as everything else but a success.
I also see the images of thousands of young men who have lost their lives senselessly to cowardly urban violence.
Sadly, Talbert is now part of that statistic. At 22, Talbert was just beginning to experience what life was all about when his life was cut short by a gutless gunman who punked out and shot the hip hop star while he was sitting in a vehicle outside of a liquor store in Inglewood, California.
Now, a mother has to bury her child. Friends are now forced to mourn the memories of a fallen colleague.
The music industry, particularly the hip hop and independent artist communities, have to now wrestle with how to stay connected to their neighborhoods without losing their creative and artistic side at the expense of keeping themselves and their families safe.
A sister can no longer hang out with a brother she adores. And a grandmother is now without one of her 13 grandchildren. Talbert’s grandmother, Mary Alice Phillips, is hurting right now. She raised Talbert. She put God in his life. From the outside to the inside, Phillips raised a young man who loved life and loved to give to others.
This past Mother’s Day, Talbert went out of his way to do something extra special to honor his mother, sending a present to her by UPS and then arriving in time to have dinner with her. Talbert was just that kind of man, Phillips said.
There is a lot of pain Phillips is feeling right now as she and her family tries to rely on a higher power to help them get through these tough times.
Phillips has been a pillar of strength, exercising her faith in God to make sense of what happened to her grandson. When Phillips talks about Talbert, she does so-reverently and lovingly.
“Montae was a loving, outgoing, dancing something,” said Phillips. “He always wanted to be a professional basketball player. But that didn’t happen. Through it all, he went on through school with the job corp and ended up with the Cali Swag District. That was his love. That was his joy. Music was just born in him.
“When he became with his group in our neighborhood, they just had it going on. Videos, that was breakfast, lunch and dinner. To find Montae, it was to find him with his team of dancing machines. I just love him. Montae was that loving kid. He loved his family and friends.”
It is incredibly difficult to comprehend that a life painted as beautifully as Talbert’s would be snuffed out so recklessly and violently. The madness has to stop. The hating has to come to an end. As a community, we must not let young Talbert’s life be in vain.
As we search answers that we may never receive in regards to Talbert’s passing, we must remain vigilant against those who seek to harm our children and young people. We must remain on guard against those who seek to interrupt peace for violence’s sake.
We must love and teach them love. For Talbert and every other young person that has lost their lives to mindless urban violence, we must do this in order to preserve our future as a people.