PAY IT FORWARD….
By Allen Kight
A few months ago, I was introduced to a 17 year old young man named Edward. He’s everything a parent would want from a son – he’s helpful, knows scripture, strives to get along with others and desires to be accepted just like any boy his age. He lives at home with his mother and his younger sister. We began to meet once a week and I immediately noticed an amazing relationship starting to form between us and our bond and trust grew even stronger with each encounter. I have high hopes for Edward and his future.
The journey that led me to Edward started a long time ago. Have you ever had the feeling you’re supposed to do something but no matter how hard you try, you simply can’t figure out what the “something” is supposed to be? I experienced that first-hand two years ago. Struggling with the nagging feeling that I was being pulled by God, I spoke with many different people; clergy, friends, family, etc. Looking for help and answers to my questions, I continued to be open to any possibilities as I listened for God’s voice and direction. Still unclear, I followed my heart to become a Small Group Leader in the Youth Ministry at my church, St. Martin’s Episcopal. It was through this connection that I became involved in volunteering and Outreach programs. While serving as an Outreach Liaison, I was introduced to reVision and Edward. Had I not let God tug on my heart, I would have missed one of the most impactful relationships of my life.
Reverend Laralee DeHart introduced me to Edward in the hopes that I could mentor him through a difficult time in his life. The truth is Edward became my mentor. I had a fortunate life growing up; a father and mother both at home with me offering guidance, support and care both emotionally and financially. I was afforded opportunities like education, spiritual nurturing, family vacations and support as I entered the young adult stage of my life. Not Edward. His father does not live at home, and his mother is the sole provider for his family. She works every day and leaves Edward and his sister home alone out of necessity. He got himself in trouble, had been arrested and was being held in a juvenile detention center in downtown Houston when I met him. Because he’d been in and out of trouble, he was not accepted in public High School. Instead, Edward obtained his GED. This is an impressive accomplishment, but because he had so much free-time during the day, he turned back to the streets – and, to gangs. Negative influences, bad decisions and drugs were major factors in how Edward lived his life. Unlike me, Edward did not have a fortunate upbringing. His childhood had been taken from him at an early stage of his life. This young mentor decided, “Now is my time to pay it forward……..”
Gang life is all Edward has known. It’s a way of life where he lives. It’s an unchallenged lifestyle that kids fall in to for lack of knowledge or exposure to better things. While in the detention center, Edward changed his vision of gangs and gang lifestyle. No longer wanting to think like a helpless child, Edward began to be the peace-keeper between two rival gangs in the detention center. He had a vision that he shared with other troubled kids in the center. His vision is simple – there’s more to life than being in a gang. With support from family, mentors and caring adults, kids can begin to see themselves as beautiful individuals created by God for a purpose. Helping to retrain the mindset that gangs become your family, Edward risks his own safety in order to make that vision a reality. Now it’s Edward’s turn to pay it forward…………
After a few months of falsely claiming his innocence in the detention center, Edward changed his plea to true – confessing guilt to the crimes charged against him. Trying to protect his mother from gang repercussion, he finally relinquished control and made the right decision to tell the truth. While suffering a significant penalty, we rejoiced together that God had won the battle for Edward’s soul. Angels in heaven were hi-fiving and God’s arms wrapped around Edward guaranteeing his security. Immediately, Edward was taken away from his mother, his sister and his mentor until his 19th birthday. Because the facility is far away, his caring adults will have a difficult time visiting. I will visit as often as possible, but I will miss our weekly visits so much. Just as my family was always there for me while growing up, I will be there for Edward when he gets out of his facility. Paying it forward, I will continue to mentor, guide and be friends with Edward as long as he’ll share his life with me. After release, a clean record for a two year period guarantees Edward a clean slate – his record will be sealed. He can start a new life – the life Christ designed for him. I’m eager to watch him start the next stage of his life and be there with him as he figures that out one step at a time.
As you can imagine, there have been some major emotional ups and downs in the relationship. At one point, I thought Edward’s release was imminent. The need for Edward to have a job became crucially important. We had all hands on deck, from Harris County Probation, to reVision staff, to individuals looking to place Edward in a job. A week later he was changing his plea. There was no need for a job. I had been warned to expect setbacks and be ready for surprises, but I was not ready for this. Looking forward to his release, I had already moved on to trying to figure out what we were going to do when he got out. It was going to be a time to celebrate after all.
As reVision continues to grow, there is an increasing understanding that Edward, and other young men like him, need jobs. They need skills and means to help support their families. They need opportunities to get off the street and into leading productive lives. The tug and nagging on my heart for that “something” I’m supposed to do continues. It is my hope that we can provide the chances and opportunities these rehabilitated gang members need. reVision’s growth, in support and in space needed to accommodate these kids, hopefully down the road is an opportunity to employ some of those that have their GED. reVision is trying to obtain a permit to renovate an old dormitory into a new recreation facility for their kids. It is my hope and vision to bring these kids in to do some of the construction necessary to bring the building up to code. This would allow them to make some money, but perhaps more importantly, give them some ownership in the growth and future of reVision. Our movement of paying it forward doesn’t stop just as our role of mentoring, leading and guiding never stops. I’m confident that God’s hand in the midst of the reVision ministry will do powerful things. I desire to assist any way God leads.
In Tattoos on the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle writes “Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It is a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.” Sounds a lot like Allen and Edward. They have both entered the Grand Ballroom! What a beautiful sight!
Allen Kight is a member of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and also serves on the Steering Team for reVision. In February 2013, Allen traveled to Los Angeles along with 22 others from St. Martin’s, St. Luke’s and the Juvenile Probation Department to visit Homeboy Industries and Father Gregory Boyle. Allen owns his own construction company and serves as a mentor with reVision. It is Allen’s dream that reVision kids would have the opportunity to participate in this project, earn some money, and gain some valuable work skills in the process.
Pseudonyms used to protect confidentiality