It wasn’t that long ago that my husband and I were sitting on the porch having a conversation about our lives and the paths we have traveled when we kind of looked at each other and said, “What are we doing?” It was one of those moments of clarity when all the individual pieces of what you’ve been working on professionally, personally, emotionally and financially, begin to integrate into a single vision.
We both came from less than desirable backgrounds. By the time Jesse was 2, his father had died of cancer. Less than 10 years later, his step-father would be dead of diabetes. My father walked out the door before I was even born. We were both raised by single mothers who didn’t have much of an education. We spent a lot of time unsupervised, and poor, and with nothing to do but hang in the ‘hood (different neighborhoods of course!)
For many reasons, our experiences led us to make some bad choices. We were suffering the pain of important people missing from our lives. We grew up in poverty, and lived in drug and crime surrounded neighborhoods. We were ‘at-risk.’ So we understand today when we look at children in similar circumstances, children who are dependent on drugs and alcohol, dabbling in crime, in and out of the juvenile justice system and dropping out of school, a lot of what is happening with them. They are often angry and depressed…normal reactions to their life experience. We know exactly how fast they can make a bad choice and screw up their life. And no one knows better than we do how far they can really go…because Jesse and I quite literally defied the odds.
He would get his GED in his late teens and go on to get a full scholarship (unheard of) to the University of Texas, Austin. I would graduate after going to college a few classes at a time 8 years into the journey. We have been able to buy houses, start businesses, raise two incredible children (in progress) and perhaps most significantly, find some peace with the past. The reality is that the very qualities that make a child ‘at-risk’ (a tolerance of instability, having to fend for one’s self, being resourceful to get your needs met, even anger) can be used to effectively build an incredibly powerful life. But it takes a lot of intervention by the right people. It takes being in the right place at the right time. And it takes someone (often just one or two or a small group of someones) who refuses to let you go.
As for JM and I, we’re story-tellers, film-makers, people who have learned to communicate and process our experience in words, images and sounds. We wanted to create an organization that could give children a path to find their voices while exploring collaboratively the many complex issues in their lives. And we are building MAP with key strategies in mind to hold onto these kids: skill building, job training, life skills, creative exploration, work readiness, community partnership, entrepreneur training, and more. Much more! We are looking forward to the day when MAP has open doors that give kids not just a place to be, but a purpose. Because it has been our experience that working with purpose has made all the difference in our lives. It has sustained us through difficult times and pushed us beyond our comfort level. And these are things at-risk kids need…they need to be sustained in tough times. And they need to be pushed (sometimes gently, sometimes shoved) beyond their comfort level. And they need someone who absolutely unequivocally believes in their potential, someone who call them on it every time they try to settle for less than that.