Monday, January 18, 2010

I’m gonna put on my robe and tell the story…

…how I made it over!

Longtime readers know that a bitch is a fan of gospel music (I Shall Wear a Crown) and volunteerism.

I’m going to share a bit of both with y’all today.

Years ago, I began volunteering at a local transitional shelter for homeless pregnant teens in North St. Louis city. I remember my first few days visiting the shelter well…how the students made fun of the way I talked, rolled their eyes at the advice I gave in my classes and generally acted like they could do without my black ass showing up twice a week and robbing them of an hour each visit.

At first glance, the neighborhood where the shelter is located appears to be more than a wee bit rough. If you read the newspapers you’d think this particular part of the city was populated by violent thugs, willful degenerates and families who support thuggish violence and breed willful degenerates. It is true that the neighborhood has a high level of crime and violence…but it is also a neighborhood full of hard working regular folks who are trying to move past survival toward thriving.

It took more than one visit to the shelter for the students to stop looking at me like I was full of shit.

It took some more time for folks in the neighborhood to warm up to me…to smile and nod or ask after my day as I unpacked my car or packed it back up after a class.

I shall wear a crown,
I shall wear a crown,
When it's all over,
When it's all over,

But it didn’t take long for me to get hooked on the challenge, to look forward to my classes or to realize that looks can be deceiving.

What looked like a city sector without hope…was in reality a neighborhood with tons of hope despite the lack of resources and jobs.

Those who appeared at first glance to be uncaring teen fuck-ups too ignorant to be entrusted with facts and skills…were in actuality young mothers who deserved the respect of comprehensive sex education, of real-life skills on how to balance work and raise a family and who deserved the tools to achieve a life without constant want and struggle.

I shall see His face,
I shall see His face,
When it's all over,
When it's all over,

I started volunteering as a project…as a one-year thing that my liberal ass felt compelled to do.

I wanted to help others…to give back, but I found myself being helped and given so much.

So I went back…and kept going back…and watched as some of my students dropped out while others moved into permanent housing or graduated from high school or went to college or a trade school…and at some point my “project” became part of my life.

I'm gonna put on my robe,
Tell the story,
How I made it over,

This work is no longer work…that neighborhood is no longer someone else’s problem…and those young mothers are no longer strangers.

I'm gonna put on my robe,
Tell the story,
How I made it over,

The other day I went to a fast food drive-through for some sometimes food, placed my order and pulled up to the window only to find one of my former students smiling back at me.

I asked how she was doing and if she was still going to community college.

She laughed and said I never changed…that she was indeed still in school, though it was hard and she wasn’t taking all the classes this semester.

I told her that happened and encouraged her to stick to it.

She gave me my change and shared that, when she voted in the previous election, she thought of me and the voter education classes I’d taught at the shelter.

That was one of the best moments of my life.

May those who volunteer today in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day be inspired to continue that work throughout the year…

…and then for another year and then another one after that.

I'm gonna put on my robe,
Tell the story,

May they be inspired to incorporate volunteerism in their life.

How I made it over,

And may they tell their story and inspire others to do the same.

Soon

as

I

get

home.

7 comments:

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Beautiful.

Peterr said...

Gotta watch out for that Gospel music, Shark-fu. It'll grab you and then who knows where you'll end up.

Your students are blessed to have had you as a mentor, and it sounds like at least one of them is trying to pass that blessing along at the voting booth.

One of these days, one of those folks may end up not just voting in the polling place down the street, but on the floor of the state legislature in Jeff City.

And it will be your fault.

Shark-fu said...

Peterr, I'll take the blame (wink).

j0lt said...

Thank you for sharing this joy.

Monica said...

Ms. Fu, I saw this manifesto today in my blog reader, and your fierece post immediately came to mind. Keep on keepin' on.

DrJay said...

Word up! Your actions are commendable Sister Shark-fu. I LOVE your blog and check it daily. Snaps to you and your 'fro from this loc-ed Sistah in Northern VA!!!

Tierna Feminista said...

You make my day. I love your writing style and the way you make emotions come across so well. You are honestly my favorite blog to read. Thank you so much. :)