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Recently I heard an interview with the great writer, teacher, thinker, and activist Nikki Giovanni. She spoke passionately about her upbringing in a poor family with many challenges, but she was so amazingly clear that “we were loved.” Her clarity and exactness in how she said it has stayed with me.
The biggest part of my job is to tell the story of Beyond Housing and the 24:1 Initiative, but Ms. Giovanni’s story made me realize the dominant refrain in my storytelling has been about the deficits in neighborhoods and families – all the things that are missing in our efforts to create successful families and communities. While the root causes of these very real challenges are poverty created by longitudinal, institutional racism and the need to be understood, but these challenges should not be discussed at the exclusion of the wonderful assets and attributes in the families and communities we serve.
To me, Giovanni’s most impactful words emphasized the power of being loved and that the knowledge that, even if life circumstances are hard, the love of parent, sister, brother, grandparent or special person in your life can help you rise above that challenge. I am not suggesting that all the vestiges of longitudinal, institutional racism should not continue to be fought each and every day, but instead I need to do a better job of emphasizing the strength, love and compassion that exists today in our families and communities.
I got to witness this unwavering love just the other day. I had just finished a meeting with a potential partner and was standing in our lobby when a woman walked in the door sobbing. Our wonderful receptionist Sheronda instantly leaped to her feet and wrapped her arms around the sobbing lady. Sheronda tried to get her to explain what had happened, and through her sobs, the woman said said someone broke into her house and stole everything.
Sheronda and I helped calm her down a bit and got her to sit down in one of our reception area chairs. Her name was Delores, and she had lived in her Beyond Housing rental home for seven years without a problem. Her two children both have sickle cell anemia, and her son had been in the hospital for almost two weeks. She had been spending nights there with him while her daughter stayed with her grandmother. Delores said she ran from the hospital every day to check her house and make sure everything was OK, and at that day’s check, she’d discovered the robbery.
Delores was distraught about having her home violated, but she was absolutely torn apart that almost all her ill son’s belongings were stolen - his clothes, shoes, video game system, and almost everything else in his room. Through sobs, Delores explained that it wasn’t about losing the material things. It was about a sick young man who’d already had so much taken from him by a horrible disease. Facing the loss of his personal things seemed almost too much to bear.
Delores could barely get the words out without breaking down. She did not care about her belongings at all – what she cared about was her son’s broken heart with a fierce, all-encompassing love that only a mother can have for her child. By that time, our Housing Resource Coordinator Kim and Cory, our Director of Rental Housing, had joined us in talking to her. Both Kim and Cory knew Delores well already and were both visibly upset about what had occurred. It was easy to see they really cared about her.
Due to her children’s illnesses as well as her divorce, Delores struggled to make ends meet, relying solely on social security disability for her children as her only income. Her children’s frequent hospital stays made it impossible for a single parent like Delores to keep a job, and I understood that. My wife would not have left our children’s side if they had a painful and all but debilitating disease, and Delores felt the same. She loves her children, and I am sure they know it.
While their life is challenging and finances are constantly tight, they are a family that is bound together by love. Delores is just like my wife and my mother in her adoration and passion for her children. It’s a gift to her children – a gift that will allow them to move forward in life and hopefully give them the strength and perseverance to have a better future.
I’ll never forget Delores, her struggles, her determination, and her love. Delores’ story has strengthened my resolve to work harder at honoring the many parents in our community just like Delores. I want to always acknowledge that, even through the struggles many of us cannot even begin to imagine, what we all have in common is love for our children and our hope for a better future for them all.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.