What do you do? (and yes, I’m really asking anyone who happens to read this). Yesterday, I was at Walgreens shopping for Father’s Day cards, and I picked up the latest edition of People magazine because I wanted to read about some notorious criminals and their lives behind bars (I know, right? Anyway…) Instead, I find myself reading about James Ford. Ever heard of him? Neither had I. Now, I can’t get this kid out of my brain.
I learned from the article that James is 8. He lives with his mama, Melanie, and two brothers in a seedy motel full of prostitutes and drug dealers in Orlando, Florida, because they were evicted from their home that had a yard and a basketball goal. They had to move because Melanie lost her job when she took off too much time from work when one of her boys broke his arm. She is on government assistance right now, but she is looking for another job. Ultimately, she wants to go back to school (she was once an honor roll student, but she had to drop out at age 14 to take care of her mother), get certified as a nurse associate, and work around her kids’ schedules. In a nutshell, she wants to have a meaningful career that allows her to make enough money to have a nice life, take care of her children, and be there when they need her. Sounds a lot like someone I know…..me.
I kept reading and found out a few things about her son, James:
- He is one of three children at his elementary school to test into a nearby gifted program (smart as a whip)
- His favorite classes are English and recess, and he wants to go to college and “win a scholarship.” (smart as a whip, but a typical kid. Don’t know a single one whose favorite class isn’t recess)
- Watched his mama take care of his 5 month old little brother; helps her when she cooks supper by mimicking what he has seen her do (sensitive to other’s needs and responsible)
- Reads the Bible at night, along with biographies of his heroes, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and President Obama (Ambitious. Seeking guidance. Looking for mentors. Learning from people who have changed other’s lives.)
- Told his mama one night: “Mom, I don’t want to be unappreciative of all of the blessings God has given me. But I’m ready for a new home.” (precious, precious, precious boy)
So, James has crawled into my heart, and I don’t know what to do about it. So far, I have donated to the charity, blessingsinabackpack.org, the organization featured in the article. They fill backpacks with food for the students to take home so they will have something to eat at night. This charity is making it happen and changing lives. Love it. I also emailed James’ principal who was mentioned in the article to see a) if the article portrayed this family accurately and b) if he could tell me how I might be able to help them from afar. He emailed me right back, and I can tell from our short exchanges that our educational system is lucky to have this man. He verified everything the article said, and he seemed to be anxious to be a facilitator. I am going to talk to him on the phone tomorrow. I’m like a kid at Christmas…I can’t wait to have this conversation.
But to be frank, I’m not sure why.
I live in an area where I can find poverty by driving a few blocks from my house. I’m sure there are plenty of James’ right here in my hometown….kids who are equally as deserving, equally as special, of this I can be sure. But there is something about this kid and his mama.
Every month when I sit on the bench, I see young people who have made terrible decisions. Some stand in front of me in their orange jumpsuits as I set their bonds, and they cry. Some smirk. Some act like they don’t know what day of the week it is. Some just want to know how long they are going to have to sit in jail until they’ve served their time rather than paying their fine. Some are terrified. Some are indifferent. Some have been around this block so many times they are as comfortable standing before me in shackles and handcuffs as they are sitting on their couch at home.
Some of them are standing in front of my bench because they stole someone else’s car or broke in to someone else’s home. Some of them are there because they got caught with drugs. Some of them were selling drugs. Some of them got in a fight with their girlfriend and beat the tar out of her. Some of them are there because they made bad choices. Some of them are there because they deliberately decided to break the law. Some of them are there because they wanted to do what their friends were doing. And some of them are there because they don’t know any differently.
And every single time, not knowing if it will mean anything or will make a shred of a difference in their lives, I tell them that I am from this town, too, and Canton, Mississippi needs them to make something of themselves and help us make our little dot on the map a better place. I tell them that my court has a vested interest in their lives, and we don’t want this path to determine their future….and it doesn’t have to. I tell them that they are better than what has brought them in front of me. I have no idea if a single of them cares or believes me. But I feel like it is my duty, my responsibility, to say it. Just so I know they have heard it at least once.
I don’t want James to be one of them.
As I was typing the email to James’ principal, I watched my own 4 year old little boy run around his great big yard, playing with his tractors and riding his gator, helping his daddy fix a pontoon boat that may never, ever run. I could feel the lump in my throat when he ran up the steps to the porch and asked me for a snack. How does it feel to look at your child and say, “Baby, you can’t have a snack because all of the food we have right now is what came home in your backpack and it has to last through the week?” How does that feel? Some of you know. I can honestly say, I don’t, but since I’ve read that article, every time my son whines because he doesn’t want what I’ve put in front of him or offered to him, I want to give him the “starving-kids-in-Africa” speech. Or, more accurately, the-kid-in-Orlando-speech. He wouldn’t get it at age 4. I know that. But when he will, I hope he’s ready for an earful.
So what do you do? If I had Oprah-money, I’d cut a big fat check and buy that woman a new house and use my connections to find her a job and set up a college fund for James so he doesn’t have to worry about “winning a scholarship.” At least, I think that is what I would do. I hope it is. But, I don’t have Oprah-money. I don’t have Oprah’s gardener’s money. I finally have a career that I love…one I’ve been working toward for years, but I’m just starting out. I’m just beginning to be able to help my husband breathe a little bit after supporting Mac and me through law school. I can’t cut the big check. I don’t have the flexible schedule I’ve had for the past nearly four years. I finally have two jobs that take up the bulk of my time, and I love that I do…but I can’t decide I’m going to run errands and do laundry or hang out with my child or my friends during the day and do what had to be done for tomorrow at night anymore. I have to squeeze it all in as best I can, like most people do. For this, I am grateful. I love going to work. I love the normalcy. I’m not looking for a reason to disrupt that. Did I mention I just got started? And, finally, I live 11 hours away from these folks. I’m at a loss.
You know, I have done some out-there things in my life. I picked up at age 24 and moved to London by myself. I decided to go to law school at age 32 with a 4 month old son. I ran for Justice Court Judge while I was trying to graduate from law school and study for the bar exam. (I ran in an election, period.) But I can honestly say, I’ve never opened a national magazine and been compelled to jump in and find out what little part I can play in the life of someone I’ve never met and probably will never meet.
I try my very best to help the people I know in the tiny ways that I can. I live in a small community that, I am proud to say, really supports and helps one another. I try hard to listen to God’s voice and pay attention to His tap on my shoulder when He is telling me that there is something I can do. Take this family supper. Make sure you attend this fundraiser. Shoot her an email because she is struggling. Don’t forget to pray for him. That kind of stuff.
But I don’t do it every time, and I don’t do anything particularly big. I have friends who do. Some people I know have been led to adopt because they have listened to His voice and paid attention to His taps. Some are moving to Haiti to do missions. Some are starting non-profits. Some are volunteering every chance they get in local organizations. Some people I know are really making it happen, and I see it every day and I could jump in any time. I do it sometimes, but I don’t do it every time. And these are people I know, people I love, people who are a part of my life, who need help and I don’t always do my part.
So why can’t I get James out of my head? I have no earthly idea, except that I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a voice in my head telling me to pay attention, and it was so strong and so immediate that I felt like I had no choice. It is not out of any sort of obligation and I didn’t go looking for it. It is certainly not because I am that kind of person. I bought a People magazine, for goodness sakes. It is flat weird, y’all.
This may be one of those Ruth and Boaz situations that I blogged about earlier…http://jewelryandjusticeforall.com/2012/06/10/dont-ask-why-instead-ask-what-is-the-bigger-picture/ I may not ever figure it out. Or, my conversation tomorrow may give me some great ideas that lead to some great opportunities…or, it may lead to a dead end. Or, you may be reading this in Orlando, and you might know how to help this family. I may never see the culmination of God’s tug right now, and that is okay.
But no matter what: God, I’m all ears. I’m anxious and I’m scared that you will ask me to do something that I don’t know how to do or don’t think I can do or don’t even want to do. But I heard you, and I’m listening. So show out. I’m ready.