Friday, October 14, 2016

Paying Attention to What is NOT Being Said: Work Days With VCU ASPIRE

   Once a month we have work days with our community, together with volunteers and on behalf of our non profit; Hands Up Ministries. This past Saturday was one of those days, except that it was raining. So this past rainy, work-day Saturday did not disappoint, there is ALWAYS a life lesson being taught.   Unbeknown to most,  on workdays we have people who are working along side of us, community members,  neighbors, homeowners, children of homeowners, who are living a life struggle of poverty everyday. People who come quietly to serve, to get lifted up,  to be an encouragement to others and some to earn a little extra money. Most times no one even knows, we don't usually bring it to any ones attention.
     Our non profit is multi layered, its not always the obvious, and usually most mission work is that way also. People most time miss the Big Picture. "Why are you serving? Why are you here? What did you do? What did you Learn?" People ask themselves these questions and others ask these same questions to volunteers. I have done "this" for along time, and its been over time that you realize, so many layers exists in mission work. I often pray, "I hope they get the big picture. I hope I see HOPE among the Hopeless, I hope I am taught something I didn't know before today."
     I am rarely disappointed with our work, in fact I am often energized and fired up after a work day. Some days are  even hopeful. It seems to be taking along time for racism to decrease, poverty to decrease, eyes opened to real issues, and what are the answers to such BIG problems as "Black Lives Matter?". We have a board member who is also a community member, we ask her to help us this year to focus on what "Black Lives Matters" means. "We need to do more together, black and white. To dispel myths, to grow closer, to live and learn together." So we will try to focus our HUM efforts on building lives of more meaning.
    This past Saturday we worked in and out of the rain, but at the close of our day we had a neighbor who was working along side of us, "Darius"(not his real name), was asked if he would share his story with the group. Quietly, he agreed. As the VCU students and volunteers listened, Darius shares his agony of being a 30+ year old man who cannot find work as a felon. He has 4 young children ages 12-2, all of which live with their mothers, Darius cannot keep the money or food on the table.
    Asked where he felt like he failed himself he quickly states, "I should have never quit High School." At 15 years old, living with a drug addicted mother who was herself struggling with demons and wasn't able to give proper guidance, Darius walked out of school. He said he thought he knew all the answers to life. "What it got me was time in prison.'' SO now here he sits, a man without direction, his shoulders and head hang low, you can tell he is ashamed of not being able to provide for his family. Asked about his parents today, his father passed when he was just 21, murdered. His mother has recovered from drugs and he lives with her for the time being, but prospects of Darius working are slim.
     Darius' story is not uncommon. The part you rarely hear in a story like this one, is the most important factor: Darius loves his children, just like I love mine. Our life stories don't even come close to comparing. Darius will not make it, he is involved with a girl now who states, "Stay out of trouble or you will not see your two year old son." He is petrified of this, and he's petrified of going back to jail because he cannot pay child support. So his 4 children face the same story of so many kids in poverty, father's who cannot provide for their kids, because they too made poor decisions at a young age. High School graduation among boys in poverty, without stable parenting and no father figures are staggering. We fail are kids here. Kids who lack support at home or from extended family or teachers or friends are leaving school at a faster rate than kids who have support. Most will be headed to prison without guidance, support, or an active pursuit for a trade or business idea that they can make come to a reality.
   How can we help? How can this person's life story be turned around? This is a real person here, with real dreams and he wants to provide for his kids. He remembers what its like to not have things, food, support, a father. We give him HOPE by giving him a second chance. I trust him. We worked side by side. You can see it in his eyes he wants better. His heart is broken. He showed up in the rain to help out on our worksite just incase we could provide him with a little work and a few extra dollars, "it helps me buy pampers". Gut wrenching.
   The answer is to give Darius a trade or some skills, give him a business and he becomes an entrepreneur. The only hope is that he becomes self employed, no one will hire Darius regardless of his character today because his record states "FELON." If he is hired, the wage is so minimal, it never pays for him to live on his own, pay child support for four children and prosper. His outlook is grim with darkness.    
    Darius' story is so like so many other young black men who quit school, lack support, go to prison at a very young age, come out re-offend, and go straight back into prison. This has to stop. Where? In school. The only hope for our future of young black men and women in poverty,  is to keep these kids in school. Prepare them with a trade or get them to college before they even step foot out the door. We (Collectively) don't help the babies of the poor schools realize their dreams. We throw them away. It is a society issue, for all. Do your part.
     One last thing Darius adds to the college crowd is "Stay in school, pick your friends carefully and hang with people who have like dreams." Something a person of stature would say to their children. We throw so many people away, just because they made a few bad decisions before the age of 20. Who hasn't? The moral is those who succeed, usually have support somewhere in their corner.