Social media: a live forum of conspiracy theorists, activists and pop culture enthusiasts who come together during times of crisis or celebration of current events. You can no longer avoid news if you’re connected to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter as it is the basis of all relevant stories accompanied by a few hundred million opinions. Today’s latest mass hysteria is about a young 19-year-old girl named Kenneka Jenkins that died in a walk-in freezer at the Crown Plaza O'Hare Hotel in Chicago. Kenneka was there attending a party in a hotel room, but eventually left the party and was seen on several hotel surveillance videos clearly impaired, stumbling through the hallways and into an unsecured kitchen area. After tottering through the kitchen, she disappears off camera and presumably walks into the freezer. This has raised many eyebrows and unanswered questions whether to consider this a “terrible accident” or a devised plot by her friends or hotel staff.
For the past several days, I have seen so many posts grieving her loss and demanding justice for this poor girl and her family. Nothing saddens me more than hearing about a young person losing their life before their time, especially to something pertaining to drugs and partying. People want justice so badly, however, they are almost willing to believe anything except the possibility that a combination of underage drinking and using illegal substances with friends equally as inebriated resulted in her accidentally walking into a freezer. I do agree that there are so many variables that could have prevented this young girl from losing her life. Primarily, where was hotel staff? She staggered into an area that was not available to hotel guests which means it should have been guarded with higher level security. Yes, the cameras were rolling, but no one was available to stop her. Were there no guards on duty watching the live footage? Lastly, what could she have possibly been under the influence of at the party that had her in such an inebriated state?
Although I am not flooding my friends and family with Kenneka posts on Facebook, obviously I too have questions. I do feel people are giving these teenagers a tad more credit than they deserve. Not that any theory should be ruled out considering the truth is still unknown, but it probably isn’t as diabolical as we want it to be. We tend to equate justice with having someone to blame. Perhaps she made a mistake, her friends made errors in judgment and it was an accident. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, it isn’t any less sad or tragic.
As a new parent, stories like this one break my heart because, quite frankly, she was probably just a teenager being a teenager — partying, drinking and doing drugs. Additionally, I hate to sound like my grandmother, but generationally speaking, what happened to Kenneka almost doesn’t surprise me. Pop music has generally promoted drug use as a part of party culture. Additionally, firsthand knowing people in the entertainment industry and witnessing the new age party scene validates my concern for how much of an affect it has on younger people.
Flipping through radio stations and hearing the hooks of some songs almost literally blows my mind. “Popped a Molly, I’m sweating…WOO” by Trinidad James was the famous line in every DJ drop everywhere and one of the biggest summertime hooks of 2013. Or the Migos and Tyga, Kylie Jenner’s ex-boyfriend, literally naming their songs “Pipe it Up” and “Molly” prove to me that this doesn’t just stretch to people of my demographic (damn, I’m getting old). When I was growing up, adults were begging young folks not to smoke cigarettes because a cartoon Camel on cigarette boxes advertised smoking as “cool” — as if a cartoon camel is cool to begin with (eye roll). Nowadays, I have to worry that my 17-year-old cousin or niece is doing “Molly” (MDMA/Ecstasy) because Katy Perry says, “I know you ain’t afraid to pop pills” in her feature with Calvin Harris.
I thought young musicians would take their lyrics and influence more seriously when Electric Zoo, an electronic music festival in New York, had two deaths due to Molly overdoses. The flashing lights, laser shows and glow sticks are fun sober, but I am sure they're psychedelic AF when you're tripping on something (can't relate but can only imagine). I mean, even in Rihanna’s "Diamonds" she says, “Palms rise to the universe, as we moonshine and Molly, feel the warmth we’ll never die, we’re like diamonds in the sky.” And if you’re part of the Rihanna Navy at 19 (and think you’re invincible as most 19-year-olds do), you might just want to follow suit.
The more devastating and popular casualty of illegal drug overdoses was ASAP YAMS, who was 26 and already suffered a drug addiction prior to his death. “Lean,” a mixture of prescription strength cough syrup (codeine or promethazine), Sprite and hard, fruit-flavored candy is another common drug adopted by today’s youth. If you’re still unfamiliar, just listen to Drake’s “I’m on One” song. He very clearly says “two white cups and I got that drink, might be purple, might be pink, depending on how you mix that s**t.” A song which also peaked at No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and, as of 2014, sold 1,875,000 copies in America alone.
Nothing was worse than Rick Ross losing his Reebok partnership over his considerably rape-y lyrics in the "UOENO" remix: “Put a Molly in her champagne, she ain’t even know it, I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” He made a public statement apologizing for his lyrics to everyone, more specifically to women, after the fact but what people don’t realize is these are the types of things that influence young people. In 2017, you’re deemed a celebrity if you have a considerable amount of followers on Instagram, YouTube, etc., which is accompanied by a particular level of cool. You aren’t taking pictures looking off to the side because you thought the camera would pan in that direction. You’re doing it for the likes and quite literally the followers, especially when you’re sharing video of how lit you and the crew get when y'all party.
I am sure people are scoffing at the idea that music and social media is being partly blamed for having such a widespread influence on today’s youth and the decisions it can potentially manifest, but plainly and simply put, it’s the truth. Young women are going as far as getting facial injections and body altering surgeries for the 'Gram and for the likes because of celebrities like Kylie Jenner or Nicki Minaj. Meanwhile we were pissed at Britney Spears for maybe having breast implants or Jenny From the Block for having naturally voluptuous Latina curves. If you’re willing to go under the knife for extra attention and extra booty (at as young as 17 or 18 years old) to hopefully become “insta-famous” and hang out with celebrities that make songs about doing drugs, should I really believe they won’t or haven’t thought about at least trying Lean or Molly? The Weeknd’s entire catalog is typically about doing drugs or getting models to do drugs in order to lead to..,*insert imagination* (which is probably every young man’s dream in 2017).
Pop music has taken over the party culture scene. “Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll” no longer speaks to rebellion or is a representation of cool behavior. The Grateful Dead and Guns N' Roses, whose lyrics were then controversial, are now considered tame to the 16-21 year-old demographic. Now we have to worry about ex-Disney stars like Miley Cyrus saying things like, “We like to party, dancing with Molly, doing whatever we want” to the children who grew up watching her as Hannah Montana.
What happened to Kenneka Jenkins could very well be a heinous plot, as I know most people want to believe. However, it could also very well be as simple as her hanging at a party with her friends, feeling invincible with little to no experience of ever doing drugs and being overwhelmed by the effects of it. Truthfully speaking, at 19 years old it probably feels impossible to predict or prevent the actions effected by the multitudes of surrounding peer pressure. Popular culture can’t take responsibility for all of the casualties associated with or around it, but I do hope that somehow this phases out. I won’t sit here and pretend that I don’t lip sync Future’s infectious hook, “Percocet, Molly, Percocet” if I am at a bar, but I’m also not 19 trying to "get chose" and I’ve lived long enough to know my limits. We have to encourage the kids of this generation to think more independently and stop associating songs or images of allegedly “lit” people with a life full of bliss. Let’s encourage the youth to “be lit” without literally being lit.
I express my deepest condolences to the Jenkins family and again I hope they receive the closure they need and justice they deserve to cope with the loss of their baby girl Kenneka.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: Kenneka Jenkins via Facebook)