Photos by Emily McElligott.
(Copyright © 2004 Messenger Post Newspapers)
The main character in South Bristol writer Larry Dickens' new young-adult novel, "Forever Ten," is based on 10-year-old Tyshaun Cauldwell.
Tyshaun Lamar's Cauldwell liked riding his Mongoose two-wheeler around the neighborhood. He liked making artwork and rapping and playing football; gave kind words to his teachers; brought home good report cards from Enrico Fermi School No. 17.
"He was a happy little kid," said his mother, Charlotte Freeman.
On the night of June 29, 2001, that happy little kid's future was stolen from him and his family, when the 10-year-old was shot by a suspected drug dealer in his Rochester neighborhood, just minutes from his house.
The bullet wasn't even meant for Tyshaun - he was another victim of the violence spawned by the demand for illegal drugs.
Nearly three years have passed, bearing several tragedies of their own, in the city and in the region - along with the terror and turmoil on the world stage. Some may find it hard to remember one little boy's name.
Larry Dickens didn't want that to happen. The South Bristol resident, author of books for children and adults, wanted to make sure people remembered Tyshaun Cauldwell - and wanted to impress upon young people that the demand for drugs is no victimless crime; it results in deaths of people just like Tyshaun.
In his most recent young-adult novel, "Forever Ten," Dickens' main character is based on Tyshaun - right down to the same name - as is the character's best friend Kevin. Dickens wanted to infuse these fictional characters with the real boy's qualities: his exuberance, thoughtfulness and common sense.
In the book, Kevin is shot in much the same way as the real-life Tyshaun, right in his neighborhood, in front of his sister. Troubled and frustrated, feeling trapped in inner-city Rochester, the book's Tyshaun hops a CSX train to New York City and stows about a merchant freighter bound for the Ivory Coast. Once he gets there, he is kidnapped by a crew farming cacao beans for chocolate using child slave labor.
Having finished his previous young-adult book "Mrs. McGillacuddy's Garden Party" - about children dealing with cancer, and set in Canandaigua and Branchport - Dickens was ready for a new project. He had already been planning a book about a boy fed up with life in a drug-ridden neighborhood who discovers a whole different set of social problems in another country, but wasn't sure of the details. Then he saw a news report about child slavery in the Ivory Coast - and then came Tyshaun.
"I get very saddened and upset when I hear about injustices done to kids. ... I'm just trying to put a face on these people," Dickens said last week at the South Bristol Cultural Center in Canandaigua, where his wife Susan is the director.
For research, Dickens used interviews with those who knew Tyshaun, news reports about African slave labor - a girl named Murimata in the book is based on a real girl of the same name who was impregnated and infected with HIV by her captor in Nigeria - and Dickens' own experience of nearly 20 years in the merchant maritime service.
He set about approaching Tyshaun's family with trepidation, and wanted to wait until he was far enough along to ensure that the book would in fact come to be, so he wouldn't waste a grieving mother's time. Finally, after he met Charlotte Freeman at Tyshaun's second annual memorial service, she received the idea warmly.
"I was ecstatic. I loved the idea," Freeman said Monday. "I was real happy."
Ralph Spezio, who was principal of School 17 at the time of Tyshaun's death, was impressed at Dickens' undertaking, and the result.
"It was very well done," Spezio said Monday. "He poured so much into it. He was here with the family. ... It really is a wonderful book.
"It was really hard for me to read it," he added, as he knew Tyshaun and the details of his death.
Spezio said Tyshaun's neighborhood has changed since his death, as residents have become organized in their resistance to the drug dealers, forming the Jay-Orchard Street Area Neighborhood Association (JOSANA) as a community-watch group. He said crime has declined there as a result, as the community resolved,
"This child is not going to be a death that is in vain. Not this boy."
Spezio thinks Dickens' book will help keep Tyshaun's name alive, and get kids - and adults thinking about the issues they face.
"The book can be used as a vehicle for a lot of discussion, and not only for children in the city," he said, noting that it can help suburban and rural youths understand what city kids go through - and realize that the city kids have the same hopes and dreams that they do.
"Children will see a lot of themselves in this book," Spezio said.
For Dickens' part, he hopes the book will get children to understand how devastating drugs can be to people and communities. He remembered when he was approached by friends with marijuana, which he rejected - he went on to new friends, while the old friends went on to LSD.
"The book won't change anyone's life," Dickens said, "but I just hope it'll contribute in some way in kids' data banks. If they can stay in school and stay off drugs, they have a much better chance of having success in life."
And of course, he wants people to remember Tyshaun, forever ten, a child Spezio called "everyone's friend."
When Spezio thinks of Tyshaun, he thinks of one particular day - an anecdote Dickens included in the novel. Frustrated by the numerous regulatory hurdles involved in getting a health center in the school, Spezio was about the enter his office when he heard a voice.
"I heard this little boy say, 'Good morning, Mr. Spezio,'" he recalled. "I was a little slow in responding. ... As I turned about to say good morning back, the little boy said to me, 'I really like your tie, Mr. Spezio.'
"As he gave me that compliment, all the troubles, all the frustrations, went pop, right out of my head. That was Tyshaun. He brought sunshine with him. He was everyone's friend."
His mother recalled hearing several similarly smart and thoughtful things her son did, such as sticking up for a young girl who was constantly tormented.
"He was really level-headed," Freeman said. "He did a lot of things that I never knew he did, until after he was killed. "He was just a bright, happy kid."
"Forever Ten" by Larry Dickens is available locally at Borders in Victor, the Finger Lakes Community College bookstore in Hopewell and the South Bristol Cultural Center in Canandaigua. It's also available online from assorted online book sources. He also plans to donate the book to assorted libraries and agencies.
The garden, the city and the high seas
Author Larry Dickens has crafted a varied group of stories.
By L. DAVID WHEELER, Messenger Post Newspapers
Larry Dickens still has it, and shows it with bemused pride: his first rejection slip, from back in 1963.
A big fan of the science fiction of the era, he'd sent a story for "The Outer Limits." A young boy then, he didn't know about the ins and outs of television networks - so he sent it to the ABC affiliate in Syracuse. He got back a complimentary letter from the station's on-air personality.
Dickens, an Elmira native now living in South Bristol, has been writing off and on since childhood, though it's been his primary focus for only the past few years. He has more than 20 years of maritime work under his belt, working about liquefied natural gas supertankers, mostly in the Orient.
His experiences on the high seas inspired his earlier novel "Tropical Depression." Geared for adults, unlike his young-adult works, the book shows merchant mariners dealing with both the vicissitudes of the climate - it's a big area for typhoons - and more personal matters. He says he plans a sequel.
Dickens' maritime knowledge also went into "Forever Ten," as the fictionalized Tyshaun Cauldwell stows aboard a freighter bringing cargo to the Ivory Coast in sub-Saharan Africa. In this section of the novel, bridging his experiences with inner-city Rochester's violence and with slave traders in Africa, Tyshaun finds himself facing both the tedium and the occasional tense moments - a fire, and a prickly captain - on a long ocean voyage.
His other recent young-adult novel, "Mrs. McGillacuddy's Garden Party," is based largely in Canandaigua neighborhoods and at Camp Good Days and Special Times in Branchport (and has a depiction of Canandaigua's Sonnenberg Gardens on the cover).
It's about a young girl diagnosed with leukemia who shames her rich neighbor into becoming a better person. It's aimed at helping kids with cancer realize they aren't alone, and helping those without learn to be understanding.
"Satisfaction is when I'm able to write a story and a young person reads it, likes it and learns from it," he said.
(Copyright © 2004 Messenger Post Newspapers)