My Mom was the fifteenth of fifteen children, growing up in a teeny town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She was born in the late 20’s, arriving just in time for the Depression. My Mom ate lard sandwiches for her school lunch. She looked forward to Christmas morning when she and her siblings might receive a new pencil or a fresh orange. That was it. When they sat down to dinner, often each would get a meatball. One.
My Dad was born in Detroit in the early 20’s. He lost his Father when he was seven. His mother gave him and his brother to a foster family for a time and he was forced to sell papers for a nickel that his foster family took. He spent much of his formative time being ostracized in the attic, eating scraps and keeping up his little brother’s hopes.
Though my Father was a very talented artist, he didn’t make a fortune. Still, he and my Mom built a home in Warren and raised three kids there.
When I was 11, I decided I was going to play quarterback for the University of Michigan. I would take the Nerf football out into the backyard on Saturday afternoons in November. I’m almost embarrassed to recall now, jumping and rolling on the ground, creating game situations in my head.
My parents didn’t tell me I couldn’t be the quarterback at the University of Michigan. They signed me up for flag football in a boys’ league where I was the only girl and, yes, a quarterback.
When Magic Johnson made Sports Illustrated as one of the up-and-coming stars, I told my Dad I was going to score 2000 points in high school just like Magic. He didn’t tell me I couldn’t. He didn’t tell me there was no hope. He grabbed a ball and went outside with me and rebounded as I shot.
I told my Mom I wanted to be a sportswriter like Mitch Albom. She told me she would look forward to every article I wrote.
My Mom made sure we left the house every morning after a hot breakfast. Even when money was tight and rice was cheap and plenty, we ate rice for breakfast and went to school with a fully belly.
Even with such meager income, my parents sent all three of us to the University of Michigan. I didn’t get to play quarterback but now, as I look back, I realize something that quietly whispers through today’s screaming headlines.
In the last year, there have been so many social uprisings and disturbing accounts of young people throwing bricks and stones at police. Stories of young people leaving the U.S. to fill up their holes as members of groups determined just to kill. Stories of young people with such a non-existent respect for life. Such an absence of coping skills. Using guns instead of words, killing their parents and loved ones and total strangers out of anger and frustration.
From many of the newscasts, there returns an echo that these young people “don’t have hope” and they feel such a deep-seeded anger that they are willing to harm, destroy and kill.
Many many news guests have repeated that these “kids” are angry because they haven’t been given opportunities. Their neighborhoods are poor and their education is lacking and there are too few jobs.
It breaks my heart that these kids haven’t been given hope. A hope that has nothing to do with money. A hope that springs, not from what is lacking outside but from what is bubbling up inside. A hope that relies, not on waiting to be saved but knowing they can save themselves. A hope for tomorrow’s vision strong enough to defy today’s picture. A hope that looks like an 11-year-old girl who thinks she’s going to play quarterback one day for the University of Michigan.
I’m not buying anger as a justification for throwing rocks at anybody. While I do agree that non-white and often poor people have endured a long, painful relationship with some police mindsets, there are far too many groups of the angry who aren’t throwing rocks.
They are building them.
I’m just saying that I don’t buy it. I believe in every one of those young people who are lighting fires and destroying neighborhoods and heading overseas to pick up AK47s. I believe in everyone struggling at the bottom of a bottle and at the end of a pipe. Everyone looking at their lousy credit file or those walking out of jail. Again. Those struggling with brain injuries and lousy diagnosis and every color of bad luck, bad genes and bad hair styles.
As long as there is the clean canvass of tomorrow, their is hope in today just waiting to be unleashed.
The only fires it’s time to light is in each of them.
The mighty, moving fires of hope.
Anybody can be angry. Groups in the fist-fulls have known awful, unfair fates. Unfair is everywhere and yet, so is hope. So is determination. So is choice.
Young, disadvantaged black kids come out of terrible neighborhoods each day and go on to excel at top-drawer universities. Former inmates put their pasts behind them and build new, better, successful lives. Stable, healthy gay people create loving homes and raise fabulous children. People with their legs blown off run marathons. High school and college drop-outs end up finding their niche and making millions of dollars. People who are addicted end up earning years of sobriety and turning their lives around. People with brain injuries create new successful lives and positively impact their families, work places and communities.
And it all begins with Moms and Dads. It begins with the seeds they plant and how they sell life. How they instill coping mechanisms and a respect for people. How they doggedly chase any hints of meanness, cruelty, aggression. How they show what it’s like to overcome. How they set examples of picking up again, trying again, standing up to fight again tomorrow.
On this Mother’s Day weekend, thank you to all the Moms out there who realized that hope had nothing to do with money. That hope is free if you are willing. That, even when life is hard and unfair and wrong, there is a light that doesn’t have to burn in the streets and neighborhoods. It has to burn inside us. And inside our children.
Nobody can use lousy schools as an excuse when there are millions of empty libraries begging for people to read their books. We teach ourselves. How to speak well. How to read. We find how to do things. We search and we learn. We ask questions. We watch.
We can pass on a lot of things to our children. A hatred for government. A hatred for blacks or gays or rich or whatever group is unlike us. We can pass on meanness and how the odds are stacked against “people like us.”
Or we can give them wings. We can demand that they emerge above every obstacle. We can create environments where they believe they are better, more capable, smarter and deserving of great lives. Lives they are resolute in creating.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for coming from where you did and giving me so much more. Thank you to all the Moms and Dads out there who realize the most important things you can give your kids have nothing to do with what you earn.
There are countless people out there who overcame tough odds. They are white and black and gay and straight and Democrats and Republicans. They are Midwesterners and Easterners. The spring up from the South and soar from the West.
They are not throwing bricks. They are building them. They are not lighting fires in their streets. They are lighting them in their hearts and in the hearts of all they meet.
Rock on, Mothers and Fathers. Rock on, you parents of Hope.