The death of First Lady Nancy Regan was heartbreaking for me to experience, but probably not for the reasons you’d think.
As a child, I remember admiring her for being brave enough to tell children “Just Say No.” I grew up in a crime and drug infested neighborhood in Cleveland, and even as a child I remember drug dealers paying kids to run drugs for them. To me, her telling me to, “Just Say No,” meant that she was willing to tell drug dealers to “kick rocks,” and tell kids running their dope to aspire to be more than what they were.
I also found it neat that schools in my dilapidated neighborhood proudly hung “DARE” and “Just Say No” signs in front of the school, knowing that young dope dealers would be selling drugs several hundred feet away from those same very large banners.
Looking back, the problem with “Just Say No” was that I had no clue what to tell my mother, who was a heavy drug user during this era. When I came home from school after hearing police officers host spirited pep rallies for us kids on how we should refuse drugs, none of them gave us answers to what we were supposed to do if our parents were using them.
Was I supposed to turn my mother in to the police? Or was I supposed to keep watching her shoot heroin and snort coke? Was I supposed to tell her to “Just Say No?” Because that wasn’t going to happen.
The most heartbreaking part of Nancy Regan’s death, for myself and kids who grew up like me, is that she never answered that question.
Unfortunately, where Nancy failed to answer that question, her husband stepped in to offer solutions with his policies. With mass incarceration, unfair jail sentencing, and the school-to-prison pipeline that turned into her husband’s legacy when it comes to the war on drugs, he made it clear that children of drug addicted parents had a bleak future in front of them. As if our futures weren’t already doomed, with Reagan’s zero tolerance drug policies, the only thing we as kids had to look forward to was visiting our parents in jail, instead of at a rehab center.
This is why Mrs. Reagan’s death is heartbreaking for me. As someone who once admired her, I was looking for her to tell me what I should have told my mom when she used drugs. And she never answered that burning question, when she had plenty of opportunities to do so.