Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Posted by: Joe Libertelli
SEEKING HIS ROAD
by Prof. Edgar Cahn
Anthony Jackson carefully lifts a pair of shoes from the cardboard Dockers shoebox in which he keeps them. The shoes are black oxfords, thick-soled for comfort but still appropriate for office wear.
Anthony, 20, bought the shoes for his recent high-school graduation, regretting the purchase even as he made it.
"I was thinking, I’m spending $70 on dress shoes and I’m only going to get one wear out of them,” he says. He looks at the shoes. "Hopefully I’ll get a lot more wear out of them. What if somebody got killed? Or it could be something like a job interview.”
In Anthony’s Bellevue neighborhood in Southwest Washington, D.C., a funeral seems more likely than a job interview. The location is only blocks from the deadliest shooting in D.C. history, where four people were killed and five wounded earlier this year by teenagers firing into a crowd from a minivan.
After spending his teenage years in juvenile detention, or in a hospital after being shot himself, Anthony has gotten a high-school diploma and outgrown his old neighborhood and his old friends. But he says it’s been hard to find a road that will lead away from his past.
A recent chance encounter with TimeBanking could be that road. If so, it will lead to a whole new future, very different from the life he has known.
Anthony was in and out of juvenile detention repeatedly between the ages of 13 and 16 for stealing cars, holding people up at knifepoint, or fighting. He got sent to Devereux Florida, a residential treatment program in Viera, Fla., and was told he could go home as soon as he was able to go 90 days without hitting someone or something. It took him 18 months to achieve that level of self-control.
"I could see the difference when he came home,” says Wanda Rowe, Anthony’s grandmother, with whom Anthony lives. "He could focus, really listen to you.”
"I wasted half my teenage life. It was like it was time to stop,” Anthony says.
But a little more than a year after he made it back home from Florida, Anthony was in trouble yet again. This time he was the one who got hurt. He was shot three times, in the chest, back, and right arm, outside an apartment building a block away from his home on a warm Friday the day after Thanksgiving in 2007. He needed 11 surgeries.
The near-death experience pushed Anthony to try even harder to stay on his path, cutting off all but one of his old friends and finishing high school at the Transition Academy at Shadd Elementary School, a special program for students who have had difficulty completing their education.
"God didn’t spare my life for me to do the wrong thing,” he says.
Still looking for the right road, Anthony happened to meet Michael Williams (ASL '75), the director of a new DC TimeBank. TimeBanking works from the principle that helping others is something all of us can do – a natural pathway to healthy relationships and a productive life. Williams offered him an opportunity to pitch in at a local senior citizens’ center, waiting tables and helping with a bingo game.
Anthony jumped at the chance. When Williams picked him up for his stint at the senior center, the youth was waiting outside wearing dress pants, a polo shirt, and his still-new Dockers shoes.
"It made a lot of difference for me,” he says. "I got out of my community, met new people. It gave me a chance to show people who I really am.”
In exchange for donating his time, Anthony received TimeBank "hours.” He can use the hours he has earned for assistance from the TimeBank directly or from other TimeBank members. TimeBanks create circles of giving and receiving that lead to new relationships based on altruism and trust. Giving begets giving, each act of helping leading to another, and another, and another.
In a world where the young man is often the focus of charity, being the one who provides the help feels good to him. He says it’s a chance to give back.
"Once I get a job, I’ll continue with community service,” Anthony says. "It’s how I get my blessings. When I was messed up, when I was in a wheelchair, people helped me. I like helping people.” Besides, he says with a grin, he may be able to get a couple more wearings out of his graduation shoes.