Innocence Lost: Remembering Tyler Winstead, Wilkes-Barre, and the Way It Was

 Letters to the Editor

Disclaimer: Letters to the Editor express the opinion of the writer and are not necessarily the opinion of WBIG ownership, management or staff.

“More blacks were murdered in the USA in 2009 alone than all the U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date.” —USA Today

Children today are forced into being survivalists, their innocence stolen by an infestation of poverty, drugs, violence, perversion, racism, guns, and greed. Kids like 14-year-old Tyler Winstead, a good boy who did all the right things, yet never got to grow up safely and turn into the  positive example of a man he would have become. He, like too many others these days, never had a chance.

I’m so very tired of it all. It’s not an impatient or physical kind of weariness, but more like a deep spiritual and psychological exhaustion. The realities ring loud and clear to me. And I’m so extremely tired of another family, that of Tyler Winstead, having to face public scrutiny, and IT ALL. What happened to my town . . . or to America in general? What happened to my home and the people who live here?

This past year a multitude of horrific tragedies have forced me to reflect on the current conditions and signs of the times. I try to grapple with the current situation our youth must endure today,  tribulations not fit for a man to face, let alone a child. Day after day—the denial, the ignorance, the hatred, the falsehood, the influence of the breaking down of black families, the incarceration, the poverty, the pimp’n, the bigotry, the coon’n, the materialism—all of these confront our kids and our community daily. These circumstances leave us all feeling helpless with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

I thank God for being born when I was, when our Easters and other holidays were filled with innocence and the rhythm of gospel and R&B music. There were flowers, candies, clothes of pastel pinks, purples, lavender, apricot, and cream, lace stockings, and black patent leather shoes so shiny you could see your reflection as you strolled down the street to head to church with your family.

I loved going to church at Mt. Zion, there was never a dull moment, and it was always filled to capacity. No air conditioner, but multitudes of Jesus fans flapped nervously while babies cried and the late Reverend Atterbury sweated a river of gratitude and joy. The sweet, subtle scents of lilies, hyacinths, tulips, and tropical exotics freshened the air, as we’d all watch the Easter parade during the tithes and offering. The procession was especially exciting because we got to see who was wearing what. The little boys always looked so handsome and clean and serious, while we would nervously search through the crowd for our secret crushes and privately ogle them during the entire two-hour service.

The organist played “Lean’n on the Everlasting Arms” like Bach! And the lead gospel diva could hit those High C notes like Ella Fitzgerald, making us all pause and say, “Wow, she can sing!!!” The acclaimed Mass Choir would accompany her like angelic mighty clouds of joy, yet softly in the background.

The Easter play, which I was also fond of, seemed as if we’d practiced it for years. But when it was our turn to recite the two sentences we had toiled over for weeks on end, someone always froze and our Sunday School teacher would save them from despair and feed them their lines. Priceless.

When we got home, we’d tear into our candy and the colored eggs that my mother had painstakingly made for all nine of us. Then she’d cook a feast fit for a king for our entire family, including aunts, uncles, in-laws, outlaws, a neighborhood child who just wanted to take part, and even the housecat. Our cousins would come in from “the city” (DC or New York), and teach us new dance steps, while we listened to new music like The Commodores and Switch, The Brothers Johnson, and other artists from the GAP Band to Chuck Brown. And then we were off to listen to my dear cousin spin records and to test out our new dance moves at the hottest ticket in town, Gus Genetti’s Easter Voxbox celebration! We thought we were the coolest on the block.

I miss the innocence of that era, and I especially miss the safety and security that responsible parents, neighbors, and those in power, who did their jobs, kept in place. I recall that the mayors we grew up with stayed visible in the city, helped keep the children safe, and respected the collective opinions of others.

Today those in power go silent. Busy smoking their Cohiba cigars and doing up Vegas on our dime, they don’t bother to care about criminals creeping through the back door, bent on shutting our black community down and committing horrible acts of violence. Those in power, silent when one of the community’s well-established business owners, the aunt of Abe’s Hot Dogs, was brutally murdered. Those in power, silent as a man feigning the need for solace and religion was baptized, then later murdered someone on the railroad tracks on the west side of town. Silence even when one horrific man single-handedly shut down a pillar of the community (a judge/bar owner for the past 50–60 years), harmed another bar owner (who was also in business for 50–60 years), shot an innocent woman playing pool, and shot my twenty-something-year-old niece to death after a brutal bar brawl. But in the end, the Lord’s vengeance must have caught up to this killer’s conscience, and he torched his own business. I guess after so many souls lost in the land of Babylon, one grows a heart. Let’s also not forget a woman who was raped in broad daylight on the pristine, revitalized River Common.

I am not going to throw stones at the hierarchy or send lost boys to a hell they already live in. But how dare you, Mayor Leighton, print and justify and rationalize a report that crime is down in the community as a smoke screen over the reality that it is most certainly not?

It’s as if human beings would lose their humanity if they honestly examined the real, true issues and anathema that continue to invade African Americans’ space after over 500 years.

Lately, the influx of transients has set the city on its axis.  Those from the “lost tribes” of larger inner cities are trying to keep up with the pace of gentrification, and when they cannot, they keep pace and move on, finding refuge where the door is open for them. They come here and profit off our townspeople, to our downfall. I believe that this town is not big enough for both the existing and incoming attitudes and dynamics to live in harmony. Something needs to be done. Not only are social attitudes shifting, but the folkways and mores have changed those in authority, and have forced their hands to become slimy. There was a time when our law enforcement officers, judges, and municipal officials cared about the voter-citizens. I believe that former US Representative Daniel Flood was a good man. However, I believe that now there is a greater invisible influence upon those in high places, from other high places, or they would not have sold out this community without a conscience.

We are left alone to explain what the evil men do, and fix ourselves for our own babies. All without having any indication, outside of racism, of how to understand our inner selves. The ravages of evil that were perpetuated by those allowed to run rampant in this community astound me. Minds like theirs are similar to the ones of those who leaped, uninvited, onto the West African shores, or shuttled Jews into train cars. They also remind me of the high-profile educators with the judicial system and top police in their pockets, in complete power, abusing their position by committing some of the most horrific acts on children in history.

I am concerned for those who live in the “Valley with a Heart,” that it may be in need of resuscitation, because the current events, crimes, and solutions—or lack thereof—that have transpired over the course of the past decade will haunt us all for life! It’s evident that this valley is in desperate need of a heart transplant.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

  • Licia Gregory
  • Licia Gregory is the author of “My Favorite Girl” (Tate Publishing), and currently resides in Wilkes-Barre.


  1. Keep up the good work, Licia!! you make me proud to say I’m from W-B. Pa.

  2. Thank you So… Much Bobbi!! We got to take back what our ancestors worked so hard for peace and neighborly values!!

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