Not Kid Stuff

Natalie Wiggins struggles with gangs, cops, and her children in Hallandale Beach

Edwards is waging war against the '80s Babies. She employs tactics that the U.S. military used to flush Manuel Noriega from the Panamanian papal nuncio in January 1990. She cranks up her cassette player or gets on her electric organ and hammers out "Oh, How I Love Jesus," bellowing out the words.

Natalie's take on her neighbor? "She's the devil," she says of Edwards.

"I've found out what they don't like," Edwards confides. "They don't like country-western, and they don't like religious. I fight fire with fire."

Natalie Wiggins wonders whether her mothering will be enough to launch Fernando, age 13, and Raven, age 10, into a responsible and productive adulthood
Colby Katz
Natalie Wiggins wonders whether her mothering will be enough to launch Fernando, age 13, and Raven, age 10, into a responsible and productive adulthood
Hair gets greased, babies are tended, and complaints are aired as a young crowd settles onto Natalie's threadbare sofa
Colby Katz
Hair gets greased, babies are tended, and complaints are aired as a young crowd settles onto Natalie's threadbare sofa

Sgt. Flournoy doesn't dismiss Edwards's view entirely. "She may be right on the money," he says. "I don't know. We aren't right there across the street like she is, but so far, I haven't seen evidence of it."


For a short time after the Women of War meeting, Natalie says, the feuding subsided. But on a recent weekend night, three cars moved through northwest Hallandale Beach real slow and then looped around and came back. Rolando recognized the cars. They were from Hollywood, he told Natalie.

There was more trouble two Saturdays ago. Eduardo, Love, and Tony drove their cars to a party in Carver Ranches. Near an empty field, they saw a group of guys running toward them. Bricks rained on the cars. Eduardo peeled out, chased by a white van that tried to run him off the road. Tony's car was damaged by a brick. Love tried to make a U-turn, and the driver of the white van came after him. Safely back at the Wiggins house, the '80s Babies gathered in the yard expecting trouble. Natalie was out on a date and didn't learn about the incident until she returned home.

Nothing happened on NW Fifth Avenue, but a group of the same boys in the white van from Carver Ranches surrounded a Hallandale Beach youth on NW Fourth Avenue, forming a ring with baseball bats, Eduardo and Marcelles say. A boy from Hallandale Beach and one from Carver Ranches fought. "It's all starting up again," says Natalie.

Natalie wishes she could find her sons a mentor, perhaps from Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but she knows they're too old for that program. She's wanted to enroll Eduardo and Armando in Sheridan Vocational School. But she knows trying to force it won't work; they would probably attend class a few times and then quit. "I can be patient and keep trying," she says. "But they have got to want it for themselves."

When her sons were young, Natalie had the power to bend the boys to her will. Now, they're making their own decisions. In her parenting classes, the teacher says parents wade through adolescence. Kids lose their heads, stray off the path. But if you've given them a good foundation, they'll eventually turn around. Natalie's hoping for that. She thinks of the charismatic motivational speaker Les Brown. Wasn't he a troubled teen? She's hoping her boys have a Les Brown-style epiphany.

She knows her children's path to adulthood is fraught with temptation. Up on Foster Road, the drug dealers promise quick money. So do the gambling dens. Natalie points out how Raven runs to the television when BET airs the Ashanti video "Foolish." She shakes her head as Raven turns up the volume and watches mesmerized. A Mac Daddy dripping in jewels flashes thick packs of money stuck in the waistband of his expensive suit. The babes fawn over him. "Look at that," Natalie exclaims. "That's what they think is cool. That's what they want.... They live in a fantasy world."

The values represented by that fantasy repel Natalie. And she knows American society isn't as forgiving of black boys who go a little wild in their youth. The thug style her boys adopt reads scary to the middle class as it reads silly to her. Her children are passive when it comes to defining or defending themselves against anyone but their rival street warriors. "Labels, labels, labels," shouts Rolando as he dashes out the door the day of Eduardo's party. All Natalie has right now is hope, leavened with humor and a little cynicism. She reported two weeks ago that Eduardo had gone to Sheridan Vocational School on his own to sign up for the GED program. "I'm waiting for a three-point turnaround," she says. "I'm waiting."

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