This past year, through work, I became familiar with School on Wheels, an organization that tutors homeless children in the Los Angeles area. We are partnered with their Downtown Learning Center, a wonderful space at the border of Skid Row where about 30 kids come for regular homework help.
Today I was excited to see that the Huffington Post had a blog post sharing the story of Hannah, a School on Wheels tutor, and Melissa, a student she supports.
Melissa is 16 years old, abandoned by her family at age 12, and lives in a group home. Hannah likens group homes to an ‘in-between,’ “not quite ‘bad’ enough to be locked up at juvie; not quite ‘good’ enough to be living at home with their families,” she writes, “In some cases, kids just end up there because they have nowhere else to go….It is terribly easy for these kids to get lost in the “in-between” forever and repeat the cycle of trauma, homelessness, and abuse. As a School on Wheels tutor and a concerned adult, I believe it is our responsibility as a community to show these kids a way out. For our School on Wheels students, we know that education is the key to breaking this cycle. Education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from these kids.”
The story brought up a few thoughts for me:
1. People can be mean. People have been mean to Melissa for years. And I don’t use the word ‘mean’ to be trite. I use it on purpose to represent plain old, flat out unkindness.
The first comment on the blog was an anonymous one, and it was mean. On the one hand, opinion and controversy are the stuff a blog is made of. Also, politics are complicated and people disagree about how to solve our large-scale problems all the time. On the other hand, Melissa and Hannah are real people working very hard to get through this life as best they can. Melissa did not ask to be born into the cycle and she is striving to get out of it. And Hannah is on the ground, doing this work, while so often we just jabber and pontificate about it.
2. I am firmly committed to the power of education. I agree that it can break cycles of poverty in the U.S. and developing countries, especially when we educate females. As a follower of Jesus, I paused briefly at Hannah’s reflection that, “education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from these kids.” I believe that a friendship with Jesus is equally powerful and equally permanent. At the same time, can the Melissas of the world know that if those who claim to follow Christ never once show up for them with education, vocational training, or other supports that lead them to a self-sustaining life? What’s more, can they know that when we don’t live ourselves as if Jesus is a bedrock fixture in our everyday lives?
All too often, I do not live as if Jesus is the one thing that cannot be taken away from me. I live like I’m scared other things I like will be taken away from me. Which is to say I worry. About myself. And I don’t spend enough time thinking about showing love to Melissa.