People are always asking me, “Why do you do this?.” If you stay in this business long enough you will have your heart broken. It never fails when you think you know someone is going to make it and in your heart you are pulling for them to make it and all of a sudden they regress or they relapse and your heart is torn apart. But then there are those times when you get the opportunity to see someone change right in front of you and it makes up for all the times when your heart gets broken. It reminds me of the delicate balance between the pain of childbirth and the joy of the birth that a woman feels and how that pain is forgotten when she sees the beauty of the baby.
I had the chance this cycle to witness that transformation in one of our participants, who I will refer to as Mr. Otis C. Otis’ background unfortunately is all too common for too many males in our community. He was born to a single mother without knowledge of who his father was and a mother that had to spend too much time away from her kids working. Otis was born and raised in Kansas City and basically was raised by the streets. His male role models were the street hustlers and thugs he met on the streets who taught him to have a hard heart and be cold. Otis entered the Man Class© with a lot of anger and a lack of self-esteem. While he was able to graduate from high school, he had no direction and was just wandering through life from one day to the next. This lack of a vision for one’s life is condemning too many in our community to this day to day survival mode which makes progress and movement very difficult.
As the sessions continued you could see day by day the hardness and anger in Otis slowly dissipate and he became more willing to open up and be honest with himself. One of the obstacles to change is an unwillingness that many have to self-honesty and self-reflection. One of the unfortunate consequences of the civil rights movement was this attitude promoted by certain leaders that a person’s behavior was dependent on the behavior of others, so that if others were wrong then I could be wrong until they got right. The problem with this philosophy is that it assumes two wrongs make a right which we all know is a flawed philosophy. If I am not responsible for my actions, but they are dependent on the actions of others then I have no responsibility to change or to improve. The consequences of this flawed thinking are evident throughout our community in the devaluation of education, drug and alcohol abuse, and the epidemic of unmarried births.
By the time graduation arrived Otis was engaged and participating in the sessions and was remarkably lucid and provided thoughtful comments during discussions. Otis is now gainfully employed and expecting his first child. He is more positive about his future and the future of his family. It is gratifying to see a life change because you know that it will have a rippling effect not just on the individual but also on their family and their community.
So, if anyone asks you why does he do it you can just point to Otis and the countless others that ReEngage reaches and help to find within themselves that gift we were all given. I am not so arrogant to believe that three weeks with me will change anyone’s life, but my hope is that we are able to start a spark which the individual will fan and nurture into a flame that ignites our community.