Bruce Franks Jr. may be disappointing many people by leaving St. Louis — to where, he won’t say — but at least he is leaving alive. He almost didn’t make it out alive.
He almost killed himself last winter. He had decided where he was going to do it — at home — and how — by shooting himself in the head. He was moving toward finally doing it when a knock came to his door and he decided to answer the door rather than kill himself.
Oddly, for a young man getting ready to leave the Missouri Legislature along with this mortal coil, it was a political canvasser at the door. It was a young man knocking doors in support of Clean Missouri, a political reform package that Missouri voters had just passed on a statewide ballot initiative that was facing attack by the Republicans who dominate Missouri government.
The canvasser recognized the man who answered the door as Oops the battle rapper — and as state Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. He could not pass up the opportunity to thank Franks for all of his good work and the positive example he was setting for all of the kids on the street like he had been.
Franks was convinced not to kill himself.
He had been sunk down to his lowest depths by two violent deaths. In the past few months, both his best friend, Sylvester Hamilton, and then his godson, Gerrian Green, had been killed in St. Louis. While his godson lay dying, the boy’s mother — Lisa Townsend, now Franks’ best friend alive — begged him to go wake up the boy and tell him to get up because his momma loved him and needed him.
“If anyone can do it, you can do it,” she told Franks. “You’re Superman.”
As she knew, Franks had embraced the identity of Superman. It wasn’t a declaration of personal superiority but rather a quirky motivational idea that every human being, even poor black kids from the dangerous streets of St. Louis, possesses superpowers.
As Franks watched his godson die on a St. Louis street with no power to save him, this had never seemed less true.
“I had been struggling to save all these people I didn’t know,” Franks said, “while I kept losing all these people I loved with everything in me.”
Franks didn’t kill himself. And he didn’t resign from the legislature before the session that opened in early January, as he wanted to do. Instead, he went back to work and then announced just before the session ended in May that he would resign, followed by the announcement in July that he would leave St. Louis.
His goal is to get well. He sought professional help for depression and anxiety over the winter after he nearly killed himself. “I fought a lot of battles,” he said. “Growing up on the streets. As a battle rapper. On the streets of Ferguson. Running for office. As a legislator. As a husband. As a father. But the toughest battle I fought was with myself.”
But he does not believe that he can win this battle and get well here.
“My grandma used to say you can’t iron dirty clothes. They’ll still be dirty,” he said. “It’s so hard to heal when you’re smack dab in the middle of it.”
He is sensitive to the criticism that he is running away from his problems and the struggle to save his community, but insists that is not the case.
“I am not running away,” he said. “If something happens, I can come back. But I need to be able to come back, not wake up to it each and every day. Not wake up to gunshots each and every day.”
He is the father of five children, ages 15 to 5, but said they will still see their father — whose work has kept him away from them on and off for years anyway. Already he is a better provider, he said, earning more money through his new printing business, Blaque Ink Printing, than he did as a state legislator, and the business is mobile. He said that he and his ex-wife, Dana Kelly-Franks, remain close and mutually supportive.
He also said the Missouri Legislature is well served by a new crew of black state representatives — Kevin Windham, Raychel Proudie, LaKeySha Bosley, Wiley Price — and St. Louis has a strong black bench with Rasheen Aldridge, Marty Murray and Jay Nelson.
He hopes that they and others can learn from his example, both what to do — be “unapologetically yourself” — and what not to do.
“Everything I came into politics with, I sacrificed for my community,” he said. “I put everything on the line for this. My only choice personally is to step back and take care of myself. It’s hard. But it can be done.”