Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hope

"Ms. Taye, are we meeting today?" This was the early Saturday morning question that rang through my telephone. I could hear the yearning in her voice. She was hungry and I was ready to give her nourishment...soul nourishment.

I meet with a group of promising young ladies at 10am on Saturdays. They are in middle school, one is a freshman, society would say they are "at risk." To me, they are "at hope."

These young ladies live in a racially segregated little suburb of St. Louis. They face the challenges of economic instability every day. Most of the girls are from single mother households, most of their mothers were teens, all of the girls know someone having sex, all of the girls are wise, innocent, and determined.

My heart is filled with them, I see their faces every morning when I wake up, I hear their voices every night when I go to sleep, they have become my daughters. I want to cocoon them from the sexual violence that rings through some urban neighborhoods, I want to equip them with all the knowledge in the world to help them escape from their world. The mental hammer in my head is breaking the fallow ground of generations of status quo.

I met these young ladies through my connection with Hope Unlimited Outreach. They are tangibly putting hand, head, and heart to work to affect the lives of lower income children. Their programs include tutoring, mentoring, and discipling from elementary through high school. My meeting them was like meeting destiny and purpose.

The young men in the program know me as well. They see me and know I am one mother who loves them. When I ride through their neighborhood, they run up to the van to say hello. I encourage them and challenge them. I let them see that I am proud of them. I want them to become responsible, respectful, and resourceful. They will be fathers one day and I want them to be college graduates, entrepreneurs, professionals before they become husbands. One day, they may marry one of the girls in the program, so my investment in them is an investment in the future. And I am not anyone special, I am just one mother, one woman.

All this is what is on my mind this Sunday evening as I sit in the coffee shop with my son. He won't have some of the same challenges because he has both his parents, both of us are educated, I stay home, my husband is gainfully employed. I want all children to have the same promise as my son, the reality is that society will judge some of them because of where they live or how they dress. My son is surrounded by books, by parents who read, by a mom who declares "no TV week," and sits with him at a coffeeshop so he can finish an English essay.

One of my girls told me a story that really bothered me. She wants to be a pediatrician. She is a freshman. She was forced by her counselor to re-take algebra because "all the slots" were taken for geometry. There wasn't a voice to fight for her at registration. She fight boredom and strives to better herself. She and her friend came to a book sale with me and bought books. You can see the determination to be more than the schools, the society, the neighborhood expects of her.

I thought about all of this after I read the Sunday newspaper. I came across the story about Ward Connerly trying to bring his anti affirmative action fight to Missouri. It made me shake my head when I think about the many men and women of color who were able to go to college, get government contracts, and enter the doors of corporate America because of affirmative action and equal employment. I shook my head as I read and thought about the kids I see every Saturday. They will need income and race based scholarships to enter college. Why the mean-spiritedness that wants to keep them in ignorance?

My girls deserve more than a society that wants to keep them in a lower class. My guys deserve more than a society that wants to put them into the private prison industry. The world deserves to hear their voices, benefit from their intellect, nourish their hope. I'm concerned. I wonder about the future. That is why when one of my girls called me, my response, "of course honey, I'll see you at 10 o'clock." And we learned together. Hope.

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