Path To the Left - Vol 2

Boston, 1994-1995

In the fall of 1993 I enrolled at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA. I had just transferred from a smaller school in New England and felt ready to finally begin caring about my education. I can’t say that it was truly my own will, but rather threats from my father to cease paying unless I exceeded a certain grade point average each semester. Despite putting this pressure on and likely only doing so in hopes of not having to pay, it may have been the best thing my father has done for me.

Before I knew it, the usual 2.5-2.8 grade point average jumped to 3.5-3.9. I was taking classes that mattered to me: Black Rights: Eyes on the Prize, Crime and Punishment and Inequality in America, to name a few. I was reading Faulkner, Camus, Richard Wright, and some of the best writers this world has ever seen. This was all entirely new to me. It was like my mind couldn’t get enough. I would sit in class watching the Birmingham bus boycotts and the March on Selma and feel things that were beginning to shape everything about me. This was an America that was unfamiliar to me. The hatred from one side matched by the pride and determination of the other was heartbreaking and incredibly inspiring at the same time. I began to look at the world and the country differently. It was much more than what I had learned in a small suburban town in Northern New Jersey. The complexities left me stunned and hungry.

And then I enrolled in a year-long philosophy/theology class which required some sort of community involvement. I chose to mentor a ten-year-old boy at the Commonwealth Housing Development. This state-funding housing community sat just a few miles from my campus, but once you stepped onto its grounds, you were in an entirely different world. Crime was ever-present, attitude and strength were the only emotions always on display. At the outset, I crept around the community cautiously. For the first month or two, the boy I mentored, Melvin, would barely speak to me. Getting him to pick up a pencil was impossible. Talking to him about school didn’t happen. I tried to talk sports and music. Nothing. I couldn’t break through.

One day I decided to drive to his home. As he answered the door, he immediately shot me that glare. Instead of pressing him to do homework or any activity that he just didn’t feel comfortable doing with me, I told him that we were going for a little trip. About fifteen minutes later, we pulled into a Burger King parking lot. Melvin’s eyes came alive. And then he suddenly considered the cost and he looked upset. I noticed the disappointment and told him that lunch was on me. He seemed stunned. As we stood on line, Melvin scanned the menu and was awash in excitement. As his turn came, he only ordered a drink. “Mevlin”, I said, “get whatever you want. Dessert too.” The look on his face is something I will never forget. I was offering a $5 meal and this appeared to be a moment of happiness for him that was not only unexpected, but extremely rare.

That one hour in a Burger King on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston changed my life for good. After dropping Melvin off for the day, I couldn’t shake the experience. And I didn’t want to. Now 15+ years later, what I witnessed, experienced and felt that day remains with me every single day. And I can’t imagine that it will ever go away.