Commentary: Did mental health issues, rap music, or race lead to teen’s loss of life?

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

Commentary: Did mental health issues, rap music, or race lead to teen’s loss of life?
July 17
15:34 2019

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

We value life. This statement cuts across all walks of life. Race, gender and sexual orientation all have life as a priority. If you have come as far as I have, then you are blessed to have had different experiences and to see the years come and go. Still being here, I take my time as a gift from on high. It’s called grace and mercy. When those of us who are in the fourth quarter say we are blessed and highly favored, it takes on a special meaning.

My early life in Winston-Salem was carefree. I didn’t have any worries. It is safe to say I took life for granted. Waking up and going to sleep at night were routine. My surroundings gave me love, happiness and safety.

Our East Winston section of the city was free of mischief and mayhem. Our doors were unlocked, and our neighborhoods were child friendly. Maybe our lives were so full of joy that seniors like me can look at these days and times with a critical eye.

Have times changed? You know the answer to that question. I believe the more pressing question is why have they changed?

I believe that children grow up now having to take on more adult responsibilities as many of them join the workforce sooner. And some want to sprint to adulthood. They aren’t given the chance to be kids and to just have fun.

Back in the day, summers were spent on the playgrounds and at the swimming pool. In my neighborhood, Skyland Recreation Center was the place to be in the summertime. Today, for many teens, summers are spent working at fast food restaurants. Some work by choice and others need the income.

Of course, the roles of parents have changed. During my time, parents were the only ones doing the talking. Now, too many parents are constantly trying to explain their decisions to their children. Some view this new-found freedom today’s children have differently.

Opportunities are greater than they have ever been. With that, you need to know how to manage those opportunities. Exposure to newness can result in all types of challenges.

While not really talked about during the early days, mental health has become a much talked about issue these days. According to reports, approximately 46 million people experience some type of mental illness during the year.

Could mental illness have been the cause of a teen’s death in Phoenix, Arizona? On July 4th,  17- year-old Elijah Al-Amin was killed at a convenience store by Michael Adams. Al-Amin, an African American youth, was attacked by Adams, a Caucasian who later said he felt threatened by the rap music Elijah Al-Amin was playing. Do you remember Jordan Davis and what happened to him in Jacksonville, Florida? The similarities are striking.

According to Adams’ attorney, Jacie Cottrell, he suffered from mental illness. He was recently released from jail without any medication. So, with this as a backdrop, one could speculate about mental illness, rap music and race.

While on the surface, it is another black teen losing his life in a senseless way. The perpetrator was white. Almost monthly, the black and white race issue raises its unwanted head. For way too long, race has pained the American consciousness.

If we dig deeper, did Michael Adams’ reported mental illness, his dislike of rap music, or racial intolerance trigger his fury? It could have been all three. What we do know is that mental illness is real and that a significant number of Americans suffer from it.

We also know that depending upon your age, you may or may not like rap music. I am an old school music lover so give me The Temptations, The Supremes, Aretha and Dionne Warwick any day.

I would say among many African American teens, rap music is high on their playlists. The problem I have with rap music is that there is always a filtered and an unfiltered version of the same song. The blatant use of the N word and the disrespect shown toward women have made me tune out rap music. If you like it, then that is your choice.

Race is a problem that is always lurking around the corner. While some may disagree, racism is a sickness with no cure in the foreseeable future. Anytime you pay more attention to color and not character, your racial lens needs cleaning. At times, America is in a racial pothole with no lifelines.

So now Michael Adams is charged with murder and spending the rest of his life behind bars is a real possibility.

Will mental illness play a part in what happens to him? We will have to wait and see.

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator and can be reached at


About Author

WS Chronicle

WS Chronicle

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors