No Spades: Darian Wilson
By Trevor Trout
FERGUSON, Mo. — It was nearly six years ago, in the middle of a hot summer, that a white police officer confronted, scuffled with, shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man.
Brown’s bloodied body would lie on Canfield Drive for hours.
The events that summer, and over the following months, when state and federal investigations ended without charges against the police officer Darren Wilson, focused national — indeed, international — attention not only on matters of police conduct but, as well, on this little town slightly of over 20,000 people, a town that previously had held some consequence, if that, only to locals, in the middle of northern St. Louis County.
This is where Darian Wilson grew up.
A predominantly black city with, according to Data USA, 22% of its population under the poverty line.
A city where, according to Forbes, there are only 40% of black men in its homes. For every 1,182 black woman, there are only 577 black men.
How did Ferguson get to this point? With so many single-parent mother households? Was it lack of ambition? Bad luck? Just a poor situation overall?
What does this have to do with Darian Wilson?
He walked the same streets as Michael Brown.
“I grew up,” Darian Wilson said, “on 539 Coppinger Dr., with my mama,” roughly two miles from Canfield Drive, where Michael Brown was shot and killed.
Darian was just 5 when he moved to Ferguson. He and his mother, Pam Wilson, lived in an 816-feet home behind Robert-Superior Park. His mother worked at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, about 15 minutes away. She worked in the cardiovascular division. She got there in her little Chevy Colbalt.
“She always told me I could go there for free because she worked there,” Wilson said, chuckling, considering his situation.
Darian was the class clown. From Ferguson. Washington University might have been a thousand miles, not 15 minutes, away.
His mother worked paycheck to paycheck. Because he had no father figure in the home, he had to learn many things on his own.
For starters: how to be a man.
“My mom did everything she could, but there are just some things she can’t teach me,” he said, adding that while his mother did everything she could, that “everything she could” came with a price. “I felt like I was responsible for things that I couldn’t control,” he solemnly explained.
Pam Wilson wasn’t your typical “zero tolerance” single black mom.
“One day, we had no food in the house and I was hungry…so I ate her some of her chips…not half…just some…and she tore my ass up.”
Pam could be a very emotional woman. She tried to hide her struggles yet they were transparent.
She would always get her nails and her hair done. She went out. She wore nice dresses. She didn’t have it all but felt like she deserved it.
“She made sure she did whatever possible to make sure my dad wasn’t shit,” Darian said, thinking about his mother. Her son had food and clothes on his back. She made sure Darian gave her his flowers daily. To a point where he felt like she owed her.
So he did everything he could to hold up his end of the bargain.
Cleaning dishes. Sweeping. Cutting the grass.
Darian did everything he could do to take pressure off his mom. Even if it meant doing those things in someone else’s home:
“I used to go walk folks’ dogs, cut people’s grass and neighborhood folks trusted me in [their] house to clean up.”
But Pam didn’t think it was enough. Things weren’t changing.
It’s 2014. Darian is 16. A blizzard ensues in St. Louis. They canceled school. Pam still had to go to work. Darian still had chores. He understood the severity of these chores. He knew the consequences.
Pam’s history of her terrorizing wasn’t new. Some days it was a punch to the face. Or being pelted with shoes similar to a stoning.
Darian slipped up that day. He didn’t sweep well enough. At least, not to Pam.
“I thought it would be a good day. But that day changed everything in our relationship,” said Darian as he rolled his papers.
She came through the door and went to the kitchen. She yelled, asking why her kitchen floor had not been swept. Darian was confused. It was his chore. This was his routine. Darian came in to explain. His voice may have been a little too high for her liking. One thing led to another. Next thing you know, a frying pan cracked him right upside the face. His own mother.
After assaulting him with the frying pan, she kicked him out of the house. In the middle of a blizzard. No keys. His phone barely charged.
He was outside for two hours, from 4 to 6 p.m. “I thought I would die,” said Darian.
He had only had one option. Wait until his best friend, Trevor, got home.
Darian came in to defrost. Tears on his face. And not just from the weather. He and his mother would never be on good terms. That day solidified it. But it also taught him that nothing was his fault.
Darian would grow older. At 18, he started working at Taco Bell. He kept his head down and stayed out his mother’s way the best he could.
Now she was fighting a new demon.
“Mama started struggling with alcohol, and she wasn’t even the same person,” said Darian.
It got to a point where there was nothing he could do to make life easy for her. But… that was his mama. And you only get one.
What kept Darian positive in high school, outside of working, was music.
“Music saved my life,” Darian said, “and I really mean that.”
Darian was a three-year member of the band at McCluer South-Berkeley High School. He played the snare drum and the mellophone. His peers would give him the nickname “Toot.”
At church, he had played the drums at forever, but this was his first time reading music.
Band gave him an outlet. Helped him get away from everything. A place where he felt appreciated.
Saturday morning high school football games were like the Super Bowl to him. “Our football team sucked, but folks came out to hear us,” he said.
Within the band, he met one of his closest friends, Devonta Matthews.
“Darian was a year older than me, but once we linked up,” Devonta said, “we been kickin’ it ever since.”
He added: “In school, we ain’t look at each other as band geeks. We felt like we were just like jocks.”
Things were going right for Darian. The band kept him occupied. Had some money to spend. But he didn’t have a woman in his life. Well, not one that mattered.
And then he did.
They began dating Darian’s junior year. It didn’t take long to realize they were meant for each other. “He was basically in the family by the time I graduated,” said Areanita Mcallister.
She was the icing on the cake. The closure he finally needed. With her, he knew — for the first time, perhaps — that someone special cared for him. He felt, too, that he could take care of himself. “Her personality was different….I never tried so hard to keep somebody in my life,” Darian said with passion.
For her part, she said, “Because of his mom, I just knew it would be hard, but I loved him so much….I put up with it.”
Pam, meantime, had abused drugs, too. Darian said she was almost unrecognizable. “That woman I’ve seen these last five years ain’t my momma, man.”
He started taking some classes at St. Louis Community College — Florissant Valley. He was still working at Taco Bell. He was trying to make it work.
He knew his mom was going downhill, so he moved out, into a place with another friend, Adrian Wilson. Then he came back: “I couldn’t just leave my mama like that when I knew she needed help.”
But that didn’t last long: “They foreclosed the house,” said Darian.
He found a place to rent.
And then, shortly thereafter, he learned that his mother wasn’t his only responsibility anymore.
“She told me she was pregnant, and I was in hell.”
It wasn’t about him having a child, Darian said. Rather, he insisted, it was the situation — the world he would bring him into.
But Darian never thought one time about asking Areanita to have an abortion.
“I knew this was meant for me,” he said, “and it was to be with that woman”.
So he stepped up. Like he did his entire life.
His father wasn’t there for him growing up. Like most in his neighborhood. But he didn’t make excuses. It was his problem. That’s his baby. And he had a job to do.
Darian and his mother moved to 721 Robert Ave., all of 200 feet away from the foreclosed home. She and he split the rent. “The landlord was really good to us, man,” Darian said appreciatively.
On March 15, 2019, Darian Wilson Jr. came into the world.
“Nothing like when you first hold your own child,” Darian said, smiling. That thought helped him get away from what was going on in his life. Bills. How he was going to care for his kid.
And, again — his mother.
It’s March of this year. Unbeknownst to Darian, his mom had fallen behind on bills.
“Landlord said she was 9 racks in debt,” meaning $9,000, “and had to shake.”
As Darian said, the landlord was good to him. But, legally, his mom could no longer stay there. And if she was to ever step on the property, he — the son — would have to leave. On top of which, Darian himself now had his own son to take care of.
“It was hard, but this is the real world,” said Darian.
Darian called friends and family members, including his grandmother. But Pam was so belligerent, she couldn’t even help her own daughter.
Pam found herself in a homeless shelter. Then she was kicked out of there, too.
Pam called Darian. She said, “Can I just sleep in the garage?”. But Darian would never allow his mother to sleep on the cold floor of a garage. And he knew what was at stake. He said, “I don’t know where she is at right now…but I pray she’s safe.”
That phone call from Pam happened the week of his son’s first birthday. And she wouldn’t be here to see it. “It’s sad man, but I got a family to take care of,” said Darian.
It’s Friday night. Areanita works the night shift at Taco Bell. But the boys are over. Same group of friends he had growing up. Darian Jr. is running all over the house.
Darian said, “I wouldn’t change a thing….my dreams are still intact.”
As usual, a game of spades breaks out. Darian shuffles. Devonta cuts. Everyone gets their cards, but somebody had no spades. In some circles, if you don’t have spades you reshuffle.
Darian said, “Stop them excuses and play.”
They all laughed. But it was fitting. Darian’s life has been played that way since the beginning. But he didn’t make excuses. He didn’t complain. He just played the game and let the cards fall where they may. Spade or not.