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Monthly Archives: September 2018

On a recent delayed flight from Chicago to Kansas City, I sat next to Mike. Mike, a tall African-American man and Chicagoan, sat at the window seat; and I sat in the aisle seat. We were buckled in, and just minutes before pushing back from the terminal, and he began to have muscle spasms. I asked him if he needed to stand up? He said, “Yes.” I got up and rushed to the back to tell the flight attendant why the two African-American male passengers were now unbuckled and standing. She immediately alerted the captain. Of course, this small commotion got the attention of fellow passengers. I finally sat down and Mike thanked me. One of the flight attendants was kind enough to bring Mike a warm compress for his back discomfort. Mike was appreciative. After a few minutes, Mike began to tell me his life story. He was a former gang-banger. “In certain economically depressed neighborhoods in Chicago, this is just what you did,” Mike explained. His father was absent from the home and his mother worked long hours with the United States Post Office. Mike had an abundance of unsupervised time. He routinely saw African-Americans getting shot or killed since he was ten years old. He was shot at but somehow bullets missed him. He was once shot at while driving his car. His car windows were shattered; his dash board was riddled with bullets but again, he was not shot. He has right leg and left arm have been stabbed. He sold crack. Many of his friends and family members are now incarcerated. Even his father is serving time for selling illegal drugs. Amazingly, Mike never spent time in jail. (His grandpa was a deacon and convinced Mike to get baptized three times; and each time he did.  Mike left the church because no one took his honest questions seriously; rather, they labeled him a blasphemer.  This―not answering Mike’s honest questions―makes me so angry but that’s another article for another time.)

One day someone took a chance and offered Mike a job removing asbestos from old homes. He was making nearly $1,000 a week. His eyes lit up when he recounted doing something purposeful, and good with his head and hands. Eventually, that job ended and he said that work experience caused him to be quite reflective. He soon enrolled in DeVry University, graduated with a bachelors degree, and now travels the country troubleshooting cell towers as a part time gig. Mike admitted that his former gang life aged him and makes him “look rough” (his words), but today he is grateful for his gray beard because he did not think he would live to see a gray beard.

May we take a chance with the other and go a step further and help the other find gainful employment because we were made to work.