Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why do white people...

As I'm sure is true for everyone that has signed up to do this thing we call mentoring, I've definitely learned more and benefitted much more than my mentee.  When I first met Israel, he was just a 4th grader and I think he may have been the youngest kid to ever be paired into YMC.  In the two years since, we've been on an amazing journey, which is best summed up in three words: Candid, Contradiction, and Play.

Let's start with the first verb: Candid, which brings us to the title of the story. Certainly one of the best part's of hanging with Israel is that he has no filter and he never means any harm, so what comes out of his mouth is simply his perception of what is happening in the world through his eyes.  If you ever wanted to prepare yourself for thinking on your feet, an afternoon with him would do you wonders.  Here's a sample of questions and thoughts that are shot out of his brain:
•    What do white people always wear flip flops?
•    Do you believe in God? Are you afraid you’re going to hell?
•    Where'd you get those White Boy shoes?
•    Why do White People drink so much milk?
•    Why aren't you married?
•    Why don't you buy a Camaro? All black with yellow rims.

The second word that always comes to mind when I think of our friendship is contradiction.  Israel is the perfect storm of contradiction: nurturing but street tough, curious but knows it all, childlike but independent, confident but in need of affirmation. Israel watches out for his 4 year old sister like a hawk, but he embraces fighting like he was a professional boxer (though he's made amazing strides in the number of fights he gets in over the last few months).  He'll walk into any place like he owns it and there is no stranger that he won't talk to, but he always wants to explore something new and it's the simplest things that boggle his mind.  When we made our first trip to a restaurant with linen napkins, he couldn't fathom that we would wipe our hands on them and he was ready to take his home with him.  The first time I took him to a cartoon movie, he was as mad as ever about being taken to a “kid movie.” He was 10 at the time, but after the first two previews, he requested that we see those “kid movies” as well.

Finally, the best part about mentoring is the “play.”  When I picked up Israel from his after school program this week, his reaction to my question about what we should do was “Let's Go Play!”  Every time I hang out with the kid, I realize how short life is and how much we forget to just go enjoy it sometimes.  Israel and I mix up our activities as much as we can, but everywhere we go, we have fun.  I don't know how many friends you have that you can say you have fun with every time you hang with them, but that's the story of Israel.  Whether it’s a big trip to a Lakers game or hanging out with him at the local community center playing table tennis, I drive home from dropping him off and just remember what it's like to be a kid.

When I look at my newfound friend, I find that I admire him as much as anyone I've ever met and he'll probably never know it.  The kid walks through life like he's the mayor (which is my nickname for him), greeting everyone he meets or interacts with from the fireman at Chipotle to the librarians he's trying to talk into giving him more internet time.  He has a swagger that says I'm pretty damn cool and friendly, but I won't back down if you disrespect me.  But most importantly, he accepts what he has been given in his life and makes the most of it from day to day. I've never once heard him complain and he takes the bad no differently than the good.

If you haven't given it a shot, consider trying out this mentoring thing.  You too might meet your idol, staring back at you in a 4'10” body asking for a cheeseburger and a couple of quarters to play that video game over there.  

-- Kevin Gigax
YMC Mentor & Leadership Board Chair


Imperfect Mom said...

Awesome and inspiring article!!

Aunt Mary said...

Awesome blog and summary of your time with Israel. Sounds like you and Israel are are both getting benefits from your good work. Thanks so much for sharing and keep those blogs coming - we really enjoy hearing from you and about Israel!
Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary

Sister Sarah said...

Can it still be post-pregnancy hormones? I'm moved to tears to think about what an impact you've had in his life, and how important he is in yours.