Monday, September 14, 2009

Second chance? He never had a first chance!

His living inheritance: the gang life. Dad=gang banger; mom=gang banger; uncle=Big Homie (gang leader). His last memory of his "rest-in-peace" older brother was when the brother threw him on the ground, rolled on top of him to shield him from the bullets of a rival gang and died from the bullets that entered his body. The neighborhood he's growing up in is one of the most densely gang-involved areas in the world and of its entire population, less than 25% have graduated high school. There are precious few positive male role models. He's feared in the hood. So, the only youth center won't allow him inside because they need to protect the others from him.

You can understand his confusion when I tell him "I love you." It took awhile, but now he responds in kind (not loud enough for anyone else to hear). Despite the fact that every other word out of his mouth is a lie, I know him to be a noble young man. It's just that the set of values and norms that he lives by were learned on the streets--the only place that would have him. Please forgive my tears as we sit in a circle with 15 other young men (mostly not gang involved) listening as one-by-one they tell stories of how he saved their lives, risking his own to intervene and keep the local bangers from taking them down for being stupid enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or pretending to be something they are not. He is emulating his first and most influential role model: "rest-in-peace brother."

So he calls me to tell me that he went to Trade Tech College to enroll in welding classes and try to make a life for himself. I'm skeptical (one must be because we haven't had the resources to adequately prepare him to succeed in such an endeavor) but remain positive. He asks for a ride to visit his child who has been placed in foster care. I'm tired--too long without a day off, but how do you say "no" to that. Seeing him play with his little boy, exhibiting the love and tenderness that he can show now because there are no enemies or homies to front for, makes me grateful for this blessed work that I am privileged to do. Stay tuned--maybe his first chance is right around the corner.

With love and respect,


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