In tearful testimony before a legislative committee in Hartford yesterday, a young math teacher at Hartford’s Bulkeley High School, Greg Bartlett, told his story.
Growing up as a Jamaican immigrant in the North End, Bartlett said that his impoverished seven-member family slept close to the radiator to stay warm in the winter. Tough as it was, he said, "I was very proud up until that time because I was the only kid on Martin Street who had a dad in the house.”
But in fifth grade, his father left, drifting into a wasted, alcoholic life. Bartlett said he remembers only the beatings his father gave him.
Bartlett said he started running around on the streets until a football coach convinced him to play. He became a star at Hartford High and later at Boston College, where he wound up with a double major that included math.
Playing football at Hartford High, Bartlett said, "My dad never came to one game. That’s probably what made the biggest difference in my life.”
He said that when his team whomped some suburban school, he would watch the parents of the losing team consoling their sons, leaving him feeling sad because he had nobody there because his mother had to work and his dad was simply gone.
"The real victory would be someone there, holding me, saying, 'Hey Greg, great job. You made Daddy proud,' " Bartlett said, with tears streaming down his face. “I never once in my life experienced that.”
He said that once he started playing football, he left the streets behind, “never looking back.”
But he had to be tough.
“Young men like myself growing up never let anybody in,” Bartlett said.
Years later, his father tracked him down at Bulkeley and told him that without a new kidney, he would die. He asked his son to donate one of his.
"Because of my pain and my anger and everything else, I told my dad, 'No.' . . . I told him I would not give him a kidney to save his life," Bartlett said, sobbing as he spoke.
The following Christmas, his dad, who was on dialysis, asked again. Bartlett again refused.
A couple of weeks later, on Jan. 5, he found his father lying dead in his apartment.
"And now, I'm living with turning my back on my dad because he turned his back on me, and feeling like I killed him," Bartlett said.
Comedian Bill Cosby, who sat beside Bartlett at the hearing, interjected, “There’s an old saying: hurt people, hurt people. We’re talking about emotion. Fathers who don’t think about it can’t realize the hurt.”
You can watch Bartlett's testimony here, on the Connecticut Network, starting at about the 38 minutes and 50 seconds mark. It lasts about 17 minutes.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org