Think of a 13-year old girl you know. For me, it is easy – I have a relative who is 13. She is so far from being ready to be a parent that it is not even a conversation.
Yesterday a few folks from the team here spent part of the day with a man (Michael) who has come to us for assistance, a man whose mother was 13 when she had him. The young girl, his mother, would have other children after Michael, and he soon realized he was going to have to be the one who raised these kids. The mother had a drug problem that ended up taking her life at age 30.
Michael says that growing up as a young child and then as a teen he used sports for his touchstone, his saving grace. He was a good enough high school basketball player that he started for three years at Cardozo. That is a major accomplishment.
Michael would also play on the courts near his home at night, trying to avoid getting into anything that would bring him trouble.
Michael shared that after his mother died, he dropped out of high school. He still played for the team but he did not attend school. Nobody seemed to care about that. One night, when he was playing ball outside, a man approached him. He asked Michael to take a package to another person up the street. If he did, the man would pay him $50. Michael did and then agreed to do it more – $50 was a huge thing for Michael to get. He was soon arrested, given seven years in prison, and he got out in 1997.
Since then, deciding he would not go back to prison, he has worked at the Washington Post as a press operator. Times are tough in the newspaper business so Michael is getting fewer shifts, putting him in financial hardship all the time.
Imagine, for a moment, if you were born to a 13-year old drug-addicted young girl. Imagine if your home life were as unstable as Michael’s. Imagine if you lived in a neighborhood that was filled mostly with drugs and crime. Violence, drugs and drug dealers everywhere – that is how Michael describes the neighborhood where he lived.
Imagine also if all the guidance you received as a child were taken right our of your life. Imagine if you got NONE of it, and you were surrounded by all that surrounded Michael. What decisions would you have been able to make, really been able to make?
Michael is reaching out for help. He has a daughter who lives with him, having been kicked out of her home by her mother. Michael says she has some special needs and that he wants to help her get out of the neighborhood where he lives and into a college. Sometimes, he says, she stays with a friend because he has no food for either of them. He is looking for more work; we are trying to help.
The cost of the Curiosity Rover project – the spacecraft laboratory that landed on Mars last week – is 2.5 billion dollars. If we do find life out there, on Mars or anywhere, I imagine that life form is going to come back here, look at how some people are living – around the corner from how others are living – and wonder why we would spend so many dollars looking for them when some of us are in such dire need. I would agree with them that we could do a better job of putting first things first.
Imagine if we do whatever it takes to help Michael. Imagine how he will feel when his life is not filled with this anxiety. Imagine if we pick up the energy of this work so more folks in his neighborhood and other like neighborhoods get that help and no longer face such a steep hill from the moment they are born.