For our community to heal and for all our youth to thrive we can never give up on any one of them. As the old saying goes, just as we are ready to give up, hope whispers, “Try one more time.”
The greatest challenge to overcome is that most of our disconnected youth do not realize what they are disconnected from. They take pride in the world they know and consider offers of a “better life” as “dissing” the one they honor.
I first met Malik in a Carver sponsored money management program. “Why are you ‘dissing me’?” This was Malik’s way of saying that he did not need to become a part of the regular economy; this protest despite the fact that he possessed a natural facility for numbers.
In this and other encounters with Malik we talked about college. This too was an alien concept to him. He knew no one who had attended let alone been graduated from college. It was simply not part of his world or even something to which his peers aspired.
But what did interest Malik was the idea of joining Carver’s 10-day college tour each spring. Malik had never before travelled outside of Norwalk, let alone visited college campuses from Pennsylvania to Tennessee.
Malik earned a spot on the tour and Carver raised the sponsorship money to include him. He eagerly drank in every drop of the experiences awaiting him from crossing the George Washington Bridge to seeing the Smithsonian in D.C., let alone the historic college campuses and not a few Carver alumni conducting the tours at each new college stop.
As joyful as the college tour was, the return home broke my heart. After the ecstatic reunions of parent and child subsided and the families departed for home there stood Malik in the Carver lobby alone staring at the floor with the same look I remember him having when I first beheld his defiance and anger in the money management class so long ago.
I offered to give Malik a ride home. He reluctantly accepted. We just shared 10 days of wonder together. He trusted me and I suppose he trusted that I would not judge him for the address of his home. His apartment building was a regular setting for front page news.
Amid the many hundreds of youth who participate in Carver after school programs I lost regular contact with Malik. I was relieved to learn at school year end that he would help keep intact Carver’s longstanding record of 100% of our seniors graduating. But I was disappointed more in myself than Malik that he was the only Carver graduate not making plans for college or vocational school. Malik moved to Bridgeport.
I felt I failed Malik and was determined to not to give up on him.
When Malik attended a Caver event several months later I told him that if he chose to attend college or any vocational program that Carver would find ways to advocate for him and friends to help pay the tuition. He did and Caver met the promise.
Malik first attended Norwalk Community College. He later transferred to Housatonic Community College, near his home in Bridgeport. He took a part-time job where he is learning to run injection molding machines.
Malik is joining the regular economy and he is now contributing to it. He talks to me of mentoring Carver kids when he has more time, when he is finished with his school and apprenticeship.
Little does Malik realize, he mentored me. He taught me to never give up on anyone.