An Old School Answer For A New Year

IMG_5323The young man sat in the barber chair and reflected on his life and the life of his brother.  I sat intensively in my seat taking in the conversation as I was up next for the chair. I always arrive early at the barber shop.  I feel I should not have to wait hours to cut the little hair I have and my beard. I remember the barber when he was a toddler and I am proud of him and his dedication to his craft. The young man tells how he was at a gambling establishment with “$15,000” cash on him. He explained as he left the gambling site, he started up his vehicle with the automatic starter device and somehow this act startled his assailant. He told how he ran as his would-be robber shot at him with the bullets striking him “five times.” He stated he landed on his back, bleeding profusely as he plead for his life and told the would-be robber to take the money looking skyward from his back. “He didn’t take the money” the young man said. He explained how he was shot in his arms and legs and his torso but “no major organs” were hit or injured.

He went on to explain how his brother was shot “one time” and died of his wound. He asked WHY he lived and his younger brother died. He talk about the hospital staff coming to him to asked if he wanted to give consent for his brother’s organs to be donated to others on a waiting list. His response was “no.” He went on to explain how the hospital staff came back asking him if his brother was in need of a kidney transplant or a heart transplant, would he being willing to accept such a donated transplant so that his brother might live? He responded emphatically with a “yes.” He changed his mind and consented to donate the requested organs. “At least five persons benefited from my brother’s donations,” he said. He then went on to tell how at his brother’s funeral four persons responded to the preachers’ call to salvation and how his brother’s death had made an impact on theirs lives. But the question of “Why” he lived and his brother died was still eating at him as he survived being shot five times and his brother died after being shot once. The barber finished up the young man’s haircut and I took my seat in the chair. I saw an opening and I suggested to the young man to read Psalm 139 and explained that the answer to his question could be found there. He said he would read it as he left. Seconds later he returned to confirmed the Psalm. He had previously said he was 39 and I told him to add a “1” in front of his age as he smiled and left.

About three weeks later as I was leaving a local diner the young man was coming in. He smiled and extended his hand and told me he read the Psalm. I would have never recognized him without this acknowledgement. Several weeks after this encounter he came up to me “again” at Walgreens as I was editing and selecting photographs and like at the diner’s, he greeted me with a smile and a hand shake. There was a “joy” emanating from his face as he explained he was there with his mother. I asked where his mother was and he pointed her out to me. I greeted her and gave accolades regarding her son. I instructed him to continue reading other scriptures as well. The Bible– Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, is the only Book that “reads You” instead of you reading it.

As we face the upcoming election for president in 2016, it appears that the United States may well be on the way to “anointing” Donald J. Trump as “King” or as he would put it, the next President of the United States. Trump has pledged to “Make America Great Again” and has tapped into the fears and prejudices of the many who yearn for the good old days. Martin Niemoller : “First they came for the Socialist…” appears appropriate for this time of our nation as a new majority (Blacks, Mexicans, Latinos, Asian.) stands at the threshold of America. The billionaire candidate who is speaking for the approximately 30 percent of conservative white America ” first came for Mexicans, and I did not speak out–Because I was not Mexican, then women …, then Jews…, then Muslims…. Then “he” came for me– and there was no one left to speak for me”. But the old school answer to the questions of yesterday, today and tomorrow can be found in the Word of God. The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord,…Prov.21:1… We may not be able to answer the question, WHY, but we can answer WHO?…Humm.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Making A Difference

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

It’s 8:00am as I make my entrance into the gymnasium at the Jackie Joyner Kersee Center located in East St. Louis. For weeks now I have taken notice of this constant stream of “little people” ages 3 to 5 years of age arriving at the Center as mom, dads, grandparents and other love ones escort the minors into the Center and sign them in. Later I would learn that more than 150 such “little people” are attending the SIUE Jackie Joynee Kersee Head Start Program. During my one hour of exercise walking the 145 yards per circuit every 90 seconds, I noticed some of the children are still arriving as I leave for the day as the caretakers are vested in giving their child a “Head Start” in life.

This particular morning I noticed what appears to be Christmas Gifts stacked more than three feet high and three feet wide. My mentor taught me that anytime the lens of your eyes have to take a “second look” there exist a potential photograph for the trained eye and aspiring photo journalist. After obtaining approval from the staff person for JJK I took several snap shots of the gift wrapped packages and planned a return after 10am. I am back at the JJK Center at 10:30am.

Left, Shadon Wilson, JJK Staff and Marcia Oliver, Center Coordinator for SIUE with Santa and his helper. Three members of Ms. Oliver's staff to the right of Santa, help to make sure that more that 150 Head Start students received a Christmas Gift and additional winter gear like wool caps and gloves.

Left, Shadon Wilson, JJK Staff and Marcia Oliver, Center Coordinator for SIUE with Santa and his helper. Three members of Ms. Oliver’s staff to the right of Santa, help to make sure that more that 150 Head Start students received a Christmas Gift and additional winter gear like wool caps and gloves.

In the middle of the gym seated before the gifts I find Santa Claus and his helper as the “little people” one by one are ushered to Santa to receive their Christmas Gift with a smile. SIUE staff members can be heard  coaching the little people  to say “thank you” before making room for the next child awaiting in line. One class at a time arrive to the gym and take their time waiting in line to see a Santa that  “looks” like them as they are greeted with a smile and if brave enough allowed to sit on Santa’s lap and whisper their most precious requests for Christmas.

I entered into the hall way of the JJK Center and observed previews of coming attractions as the Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation and SIUE are working together to complete the new construction to the current 41,000 square foot center as “eight” new class rooms and other amenities will soon be ready next year. JJK’s photograph is out front at the receptions desk area with her holding a sign which reads, “I Am Here To Make A Difference“. I have flashbacks of this past summer and fall when it appeared that all roads led to the JJK Center. Organized football and soccer teams played during the day and “at night”. Many of the games were going on at the same time with the “little people” from the ages of 6 to 14 years of age were totally engaged in their sport of choice. Cars park outside of the construction area, people coming and going and the different teams where the “JJK” initials were observable on many of their uniforms.

It was at Russellville, Arkansas, more than three decades ago, while on vacation where I first took notice of Jackie Joyner, her mentor and coach, Nino Fennoy and what became known as the Nino Fennoy Connections. I was there because my cousin Jackie was also a track star and we traveled to observe her at this particular event. We were surprised to find our hometown folks there in the competition of the Summer AAU events. Here was Jackie Joyner “before” the Olympic Medals. before being noticed and claimed by the International Community as the Athlete of the Century and before gracing the box of Wheaties, the Breakfast of Champions. The track team from East St. Louis, under the coaching and mentoring of Nino Fennoy gave Russellville a preview of coming attractions.

I search the archives of the Metro Star and founds priors stories and events relating to JJK. An example when she made an unscheduled return visit to East St. Louis to be here for her mentor when his father died. The many times that JJK made it known how proud she was of her hometown roots and how she overcame obstacles in her life and turned them into opportunities. But the key and what stands out the most was her mentor and how he used sports as the “hook” to foster the pursuit of becoming All-American in the class room before becoming All-American in Athletics. There’s no doubt that JJK learned this lesson well as the JJK Center appears at time to be the very center and heart of the community. There is a reason why the Center services more than 3000 children a year and the numbers are growing. Jackie Joyner-Kersee,  “I AM Here to make a difference,” should make us all ask ourselves, Why AM I Here???