Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Transformation in the hood

Back in June of 2008 I visited Pittsburgh to make sure that this was what my calling would be over the next several years. During this time Urban Impact Foundation had their annual Football Clinic with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over 450 youth showed up along with parents on this rainy day. Due to the rain, the clinic was moved from outside to the Oliver basketball gym. We now had all these youth and adults crammed into a muggy gym in the beginning of summer. Larry Foote, middle linebacker for the Steelers was speaking and up at the top of the bleachers a group of high schoolers were acting out. Pastor Ed took the microphone and in a way Pastor Ed is the best at, he called out the ring leader. The youth immediately calmed down and the rest of the event went off and was a success. I remember the youth Pastor Ed called out, his name was Boo-Man. I looked up at him and he was dressed in a white t-shirt and his jeans were hanging halfway down his butt with his boxers showing. The others around him looked and dressed in a similar fashion. Coming from a suburban upbringing I was scared and intimidated by this look although I put on a good face. "What do I have to offer these kids?" resounded through my head. It's over 3 years down the road and guess what? Boo-Man and I have a story.

While I was new to Urban Impact, the athletic director at the time asked if I would take Daryl to our outreach basketball. Of course! Little did I know that Boo-Man was Daryl and he had a history with us. If we kept records on who had been kicked out of our gyms the most, Boo-Man has to hold that record. There are many stories of him circulating through our offices, "the kid who cussed out the supervisor", "the kid who wanted to fight one of our toughest volunteers". Just before it was time to leave for basketball in walks Boo-Man. I'm thinking, "do I really want this gang banger in my car?" From that day on, every Monday Boo-Man would come get a ride from me to outreach throughout what was then his junior year. He didn't talk much but I knew that he enjoyed basketball and played for his high school team. Fast forward to his senior year, I stayed in touch with Boo-Man but he was busy as a lot of high school seniors can be. I thought he had just strayed from our program. During the basketball season I went to watch his team play and this didn't go unnoticed by him. Later in the season, his team played Oliver, their rival and also the team I had a few of the guys who I'd gotten close to were playing for. In the Oliver gym, Boo-Man's team was down one with seconds left. Boo-Man was left wide open to shoot a 3 and took the shot. He made it! That was the shot athletes dream of, last second, in the enemy's camp. Boo-Man was THAT guy on that day. I was excited and I let him know how proud I was of him.

Fast forward to the end of the year. I would see Boo-Man around and I would ask him what he was planning to do for college. Come to find out, he had a decent GPA and could get accepted at most of the colleges. I helped him fill out his financial aid papers and we got them sent in along with a few college applications. He talked like he wanted to go to Penn State but as the clock was ticking he wouldn't return phone calls. Finally in July, about 3 weeks before it's time to enter college I receive a phone call from Boo-Man. Trouble was, I happen to be in Salt Lake City at the time. Boo-Man decided to attend Penn State New Kensington. (Thank God we did an app to Penn State) When I got home from SLC, the first thing I did was find Boo-Man. We listed out the things to do for him to start in 2 weeks and like clockwork he got them done and enrolled on time.

With Boo-Man set up to start school I felt I'd earned the right to ask him a few questions. One of the questions I asked him was what happened when he went silent on me for those couple of months. Someone from his neighborhood told him that he should attend one of Pitt's satellite schools and play basketball for them. He started going down that path as they said money wouldn't be an object. He ended up paying over $400 in different fees to find out that attending Pitt would end up costing him over $10000 more a year. I let him know that we could've found that out without him wasting all that time and money and in the future let me know what's going on in your head and we'll look at all the options and he can make a decision. Since that day Boo-Man has come to me with different decisions he's had to make.

Over the past year, Boo-Man relucantly went to bible studies with his roommates at Penn State. Sometime in the spring, something clicked with him and his whole tone changed. His postings on facebook were no longer vulgar or filled with obscenities and the leader of his bible study told me that he was starting to get engaged. Last May he called me up and told me that he wanted to get baptised. I asked him if he knew what that meant and he was able to tell me why. For different reasons it's been difficult to get him baptised as he doesn't attend a regular church and quite frankly my summer was extremely busy. I knew this fall I needed to make this happen and I had to prioritize this event. His bible study leader up at school made sure that he was ready to be baptised and knew what it meant and this Sunday I'll be attending a baptism class with him for his baptism on October 23rd! We'll be celebrating with all his friends and family his outward expression to follow Jesus.