My friend Debbie came for a lunch visit today.
Debbie is black. She was also accosted on the short walk from her parked car to the shelter. She didn’t even make it before she had to kick someone, or, as she put it “defend myself from my own people.” So she turned around and went back to her car and picked me up in her vehicle.
Poor girl couldn’t find her way out of a basket. She was so lost in skid row. I finally directed her away from a throng of street dwellers who seemed very interested as she drove by slowly. Eventually she caught sight of me and her smile lit up the entire street.
“Tell your friend to quit smiling so much.” Matt sarcastic poked fun as I left the shelter behind for a moment.
So strange to see a member of my old life pushed up against the backdrop. She seemed a little shocked. I thanked her for taking the time. She said everyone should see this.
Over lunch we discussed midwifery politics, my case and then landed on the question that has burned through my brain for 21 solid days. Why is nearly everyone on skid row black? I mean, really. Another black friend of mine said he once stopped on 6th and San Pedro and thought, “Wow. So this is where the black folks are.”
We pondered all the various reasons… Katrina, lack of education, neurological predispositions to various drugs. But nothing seemed to fit the bill.
After she left it occurred to me. Almost everyone here has a record. And now I’m convinced I’m partially looking at the end result of racism in the criminal system. Yes, the chicken may indeed come before the egg. The cause and effect needs to be looked at from the opposite perspective to connect the telling dots.
I saw the same thing in jail. Almost everyone was black there too. And the defendents in the courthouse… at least the ones with a yawning court appointed attorney.
And now the shelter staff looks shinier against that back drop. Most of them are survivors as well as felons. And they’ve found the will to turn around and make a difference. Not a difference for everyone, or even most, but a difference in some. A difference in a few. Hell, even a difference in ONE is an eternal reward.
An 82 year old man walked on the grounds and proclaimed himself homeless. I have a hard time telling the age of black men. They have this perpetual youth thing down. I would not have thought he was as old as he was if he didn’t tell us. Perhaps the fact that he walked with a cane and was slower than the other men would’ve given me a hint.
He was beautiful.
Another older client gawked at his age and told us that he didn’t want to live to be 82. He philosophized that growing that old means that all your loved ones are gone. He said he doesn’t want to say goodbye to everyone and be all alone.
One of the staff piped up, “I wouldn’t mind. I want to live to be a real old man. I’d just make me a whole new setta friends.”
It’s this positive attitude that makes the staff glow.
Eventually Eric came out and met with him. He spoke kindly to him and slowed with the respect children are rightfully taught to show their elders. The fact the man was even homeless was a shame on all of us. Eric slowly walked him to his office and found him a safe place to go for shelter. And with that I began to see that these case workers are doing the work of all of us.