February 21, 2010
4 July, 2007
Yesterday I drove over to RC’s to see if any of his sons might be interested in going with me to my sister’s lake place for the 4th (of July). As I pulled up to the curb on RC’s block, I paused before getting out. There seems to always be things happening at RC’s house. I watched the goings-on.
As I sat there, RC rolls by on a bike. He smiles and waves as he slows to turn around. He knows my vehicle – a type not driven by the residents of this part of town.
I get out and we knock knuckles. He doesn’t believe in handshakes – too symbolic of “the system”. I ask about his boys coming with me. He says they are going to have a birthday party for one of his sons and they’ll be grilling out, etc. I can tell he really wants the whole family together. I don’t press the question.
I ask how his art work is coming. He’s an artist. His work has a rather strong political bent to it. It is definitely interesting.
You don’t have to ask to find out where he stands politically. He’ll tell you whether you want to know or not. He said he belonged to The Panthers for 20 years.
As we talk the kids from the upper duplex keep setting off noise-making firecrackers. He tells them not to as his dogs don’t like firecrackers. One can hear them barking inside. But these are not his kids and they soon start popping them again. They’re handing out handfuls to other kids as they come by. It’s going to be another quite night in the inner-city.
There are some interesting similarities between RC and JT. RC has been in prison for at least 10 years of his life. He says prison is rough, but it is probably why he is still alive. Many of his friends have died. Some died when only 17. They were violent deaths. He says he has seen much – men with their guts spilling out, heads cut off. He looks away. There’s much inside, but he says he’s not angry.
He says what the world needs more of is poetry. He says art is what is needed most.
Now to many, switching from such violence to poetry, may seem incongruous. To me, it’s like an answer to prayer. I’ve been praying about how to combine seemingly incongruous interests – how to combine art/design and inner city ministry. I’ve thought, and told others, that what I needed was a house with a gym attached. If this didn’t start some snickering, I then said, “And the gym needs to be able to be changed into an art gallery when needed.”
Having JT in my life the past (almost) two years, has changed some of my thinking about the inner city and its people. The problems are not easily remedied. There is much that works against a remedy.
Again, RC reminds me much of JT. He has tremendous insights – ones you would not expect from one with his history.
He also has bad teeth like JT.
And he is great with people. As we stand on the sidewalk, he waves to every other car that goes by. He says everyone in the neighborhood knows him – and not just the African-Americans, the Hispanic, the SE Asians, and even the White folks all yell a word of greeting his way. His yard is a collection of kids. He seems to play dad to many.
He says what he really wants to do most in life is to help the kids. He says the system only creates kids that hate and kids that hate have no where to go. They will do things that get them criminal records and once you have that, there’s no hope for a better life. You’re trapped by your record.
I ask what he would do. He says you need to train people – give them skills where they can get jobs and have some hope of getting out of poverty. The problem with poverty is there is so little hope for anything else.
He says he’d like to start a program for the kids. Then he pauses and says, what is actually needed is a program that goes after the gang leaders.
Wow. I really like this guy. He looks for the root of the problem and goes after it. If you can get the gang leaders and drug dealers off the streets and pursuing lives that can go somewhere, the rest of the kids will follow.
I ask what he would do for them. He says you have to go with things they like. They like guns and cars. So, what you need is something that gets them into cars not into guns.
I press further. I ask how he would do that. He says he’d start a training thing that taught them automotive skills. He says once they saw they could make a living working on cars, they would choose cars over guns.
So, I ask, what would he need to start something like this. He says a couple cars.
My mind is spinning.
He points to my vehicle and says, “But not yours. They need to start on cars that don’t have all the computer stuff, otherwise they’ll just get discouraged.” He points to a car parked a few feet away. He says, “Cars like mine.”
Now this car he points to is made of different colored parts. It doesn’t look like it has gone anywhere recently. RC says a neighbor kid broke the back window a few weeks ago. He shakes his head.
I tell him his car looks to be vintage. He says it’s a ’61 Dodge.
Again, I ask about what it would take to get his “Reach the Gang Leaders” program started. He reduces what would be needed from a couple cars to, “A car”.
I ask the price to buy such a car. He says a couple hundred bucks.
So what I really need is to add another g to the ideal property – garage. I need a house with a gym that’s a gallery that’s a garage.
Sounds a little much, but …then …it’s what RC already has – a basketball “court” in the backyard, a sculpture “garden” in the front yard, and an automotive “garage” on the side street.
What God has brought together…