I first saw the publicized school picture of her,
chestnut shoulder length brown curls close to her face,
wide eyes staring out as if trying to see into a future,
twirling faster than can be caught by a child
who has only seen seven autumns.
Angels only visit us when we are mourning, when we are open to receive.
They greet us, sending a hummingbird heartbeat message.
I saw her face and heard a whisper.
Say something about this sweet child.
Say something about this no longer Earth tethered angel.
Nizxmary Brown enrolled in PS256 at the start of her 1st grade year. During this year she had few notable absences except towards the end of the school year in May. From September 2005 to June 2006, the attendance of 2nd graders at New York City Public School 256, Benjamin Banneker was the highest it had been in ten years.
The 1st grade teacher did not recollect ever having a behavioral problem with Nixzmary. The child reportedly arrived on time for school, and always presented her homework as required. The first grade teacher remembers her as a “quiet child”. Whenever called on Nixzmary Brown generally knew the answer to questions but was never a child to raise her hand and volunteer answers. She always waited to be called by the teacher even though she often knew the correct answer to questions. She successfully completed all the school-wide assessment tests and was promoted to 2nd grade.
The beginning of 2nd grade saw a remarkable difference in the attendance of Nixzmary Brown. In November, she was present in school for a total of only two days.
As the month was approaching its’ end, one of the social workers at PS 246 made a call to the child abuse hotline at Administration for Children Services reporting the absences and expressing concerns regarding Nixzmary Brown. A similar call had been made in May, 2005 when Nixzmary had been absent from school for a period of seven consecutive days.
Margarito Cotto was the PS 256 Social Worker assigned to Nixzmary Brown who on at least five occasions prior to December, had contacted ACS regarding the child’s absences and bodily bruises. As a result of her telephone call on December 1st to ACS, an ACS supervisor Orlene Cummings and caseworker Vanesssa Rhoden spoke with Nixzaliz Santiago, the mother, in her Chauncey Street apartment following their initial visit to PS 256 to interview the teaching staff and principal. After attempts to contact Ms. Santiago by phone failed because Mr. Rodriquez stated the former was too ill to answer the phone, the caseworkers had traveled the short distance to the family’s apartment. It was at this time that the premature miscarried fetus of Mrs. Santiago was observed by the ACS workers, in a jar on the couple’s nightstand.
On the same day, December 1st, prior to visiting the Santiago/Rodriquez home, the caseworkers interviewed Selena, Nixzmary’s sister at her school. Salena said more than once during this interview that Cesar Rodriquez had caused the most recent head injuries to Nixzmary which had required a visit to Woodhull Hospital Emergency Room on November 10th. The parents had previously reported to the school that the injury was from a “fall on a piece of wood”.
The time between that initial telephone phone call on December 1st by the school social worker, Margarita Cotto and the death of Nixzmary Brown on January 10, shows contradictory claims and denials as the Administration for Children Services, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Department of Education all attempt to limit blame of their agencies in the death of Nixmary Brown. Later, following the death of Nixzmary, the doctor at Woodhull who saw Nixzmary would insist that his diagnosis of the cause of her fall was consistent with and in agreement with information from the parents as to how Nixzmary’s head lacerations occurred.
School administrators and staff at PS256 were uneasy about Nixzmary Brown’s home life. The second grade teacher had reported several instances of body bruises to ACS, the agency responsible for protecting New York City children against parental harm. ACS field notes taken by staff at the school on December quote the teaching staff : “Stepparent beats mother and he is intimidating….Mother is withdrawn and passive, taking no action to protect herself or children.” Further remarks state, “Stepparent recently hit Nixzmary, causing lacertation on her forehead and a bruised eye.”
On December 1st, with this information and more from school officials, ACS , visited Nizxmary Brown’s home, interviewed her parents and instead of removing the children from the home, which they were empowered to do, allowed the children to remain with their parents. Nixzmary had playmates in the neighborhood and a family member of one of these noticed the bruised injuries on the child. Perry Robinson’s grandnephew often played with Nixzmary. Mr. Robinson says that Nixzmary told him, “He (Cesar Rodriquez) threatened to kill me and mom and everyone. Mr. Robinson remembers Nixzmary as being “so petrified”.
Due to Nixzmary’s frequent school absences, perhaps the days she was at her worst, anyone who could protect or remove her from her abusive family environment, never saw her most damaging signs of abuse. Mr. Robinson says, “I saw her with welts on her arms, limping.”
He adds, “She would tell me she fell.” Maybe because Nixzmary tried to hide the stepfather’s abuse and was “so petrified”, Mr. Robinson and others at PS256, felt limited in their ability to intervene. There appears to have been enough evidence for concern on the part of the staff at PS 256, but not enough to secure a safe haven for Nizxmary away from her parents.
Since Nixzmary’s death, Ms. Cotto questions if she could have done more….visited the home and insisted on ACS removing Nixzmary. This is probably a question facing all of the staff at PS256 and the immediate neighbors, who came into contact with Nixzmary. Could I have done more? Why didn’t I do more? Following the discovery of Nixzmary’s body by police officers, New York City residents and neighbors of the Santiago family speaking to the media, continued to ask how such a “horrible” thing could have happened. Why hadn’t they seen the harm Cesar Rodriquez could have caused and why didn’t someone stop him?
But who could have stopped him?
The smell of magnolia
Sometimes I remember a place that doesn’t exist anymore.
Like my grandmother’s side yard of the house built for her in 1946,
where pecan trees dropped nuts across autumn yellowed leaves.
It has been years but I can still feel in my hands
the rough edges of the small brown burlap bag that held pecans.
As I read the first news story about Nixzmary,
I was once again in my grandmother’s yard, nine years old, picking up pecans,
as the smell of late blooming magnolia passes over me,
on a warm day in November.
The Collective and Individuation
C.G. Jung whose work has entered our American lives through his writings, and the clinical practice of analytical psychology, says that we must individuate—leave our collectives and suffer through learning the psychological pain of being alone. I believe the process of individuation was Jung’s most noted idea regarding becoming psychologically mature and morally responsible. He believed morality develops because of individuation. We cannot be moral human beings, if we remain only in concert with collective thinking throughout our entire lives.
A collective stance can only minimally support us in resolving issues of familial incest and child abuse. We can turn away from this kind of suffering because we may be afraid. As individuals, we also turn away because we do not feel responsibility for protesting—someone else will take care of the problem. This is what happens with collective thinking. The individual claims no power to stop abuse, to take conscious action in whatever form it takes.
Something drastic, usually murder must occur, and then the collective will pass a law as in the case of the death of Nixmary Brown. In New York State, there is now a Nixmary’s Law that punishes perpetrators with a maximum life sentence in prison for abuse of children under 14 years of age. This law comes too late for Nixmary Brown. Will it really help other abused children? Are we attempting to fix a Collective psychological problem only with mandated laws? How can we as individuals feel our own morality, and take action to make important changes in the area of child protection? How can we deepen our morality in the face of abuse and the murder of children?
Fanny Brewster, PhD., M.F.A.
Dr. Fanny Brewster is a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York City where she completed her analytical training. She is a lecturer and workshop presenter on Jungian related topics. In December, she gave a workshop through the IAAP in Rome, Italy on the topic of “Black Lives Matter and Jungian Psychology”.
Dr. Brewster is a writer of poetry and nonfiction. Her most recent poems have been published in Deep South Magazine and Evening Street Press. Poems are forthcoming in the Psychological Perspectives Journal where she will be the featured poet of that issue. Her nonfiction book African Americans and Jungian Psychology: Leaving the Shadows is forthcoming this year by Routledge Publishing. Poems are from the author’s unpublished manuscript, Turn a Blind Eye: The Death of .