Meet the Tuckers

Image by Andre Lambertson. Liberia, 2007.

Today we met Junior and Archie Tucker, Isaiah and Kenje's brothers. After spending time with Isaiah in Park Hill, Staten Island and Kenje in jail in Rikers Island, it was an intense experience meeting Junior and Archie in Paynesville, a slum in Monrovia, where all the Tuckers were born and raised.

At 31 Junior is 8 years older than Kenje and 10 years older than Isaiah and he is an older brother through and through. After hearing about the rough time Kenje and Isaiah are having in America, Junior gets tears in his eyes. If only he had the opportunity to go to America, he says, he'd get his master's degree and his Ph.D. and do the Tuckers proud.

But Junior and Archie never had the opportunity. When their family fled Liberia during the war, they took their youngest sons, hoping the older family members could win the immigration lottery on their own. They never did. Now the four brothers have grown up on opposite sides of the ocean — and their existences are living proof of the differences between the opportunities and challenges that exist on both continents.

Although Junior believes his brothers have more opportunity (and hope) in America, Isaiah struggles to raise his little girl in the projects in Staten Island while Kenje sits in jail awaiting trial on drug charges. Isaiah sees no difference between his mud hut in the slums of Liberia and the projects in Staten Island. He doesn't know what his brothers have been through since the war ended — how they have struggled to put their lives back together in war-torn Liberia and how much a phone call or a few dollars would help.

Archie says their mud house was looted after the war. Even the mattress in Isaiah's old bedroom took three months to replace after the rebels stole it.

If Junior could tell his brothers one thing it would be to not squander the gift they were given of being in America. But Junior doesn't seem to understand that life in America comes with difficulties of its own: gangs, violence, drugs and peer pressure.

When Andre and I return we will take back the videos and photos of Junior and Archie to show their family. Even across oceans I hope they will gain an understanding of each other's lives.