My sister-in-law shared an essay my fourteen year old nephew, Kirkland, wrote for his Freshman Humanities class. He was asked to write about who he wanted to be. Kirkland used his summer visit with us in Memphis six years ago as the foundation upon which he would build his two page answer. As I read the essay I quickly realized that unlike my fourteen-year-old self Kirkland was answering the question exactly as asked: he wasn’t writing what he wanted to be; he was answering who he wanted to be. Not once did he mention a profession of choice but rather, he spoke of the person he is striving to become. In moments that both taught me lessons and brought me to tears, he wrote about the silent examples shown by his uncle (my husband) that helped him understand the difference between “what” and “who.”
Wanting to show our nephews the very best of Memphis, we took them to the very best in Memphis. They saw Stomp at the Orpheum, climbed the rock wall at Bridges and rode our neighbor’s golf cart through the neighborhood along the Mississippi River. We went to Main Street and Beale Street. They learned the difference between smoked ribs and boiled ribs (the latter offence having taken place outside of Memphis.) And though we feared having ruined their summer by insisting they eat more vegetables and complete their daily chores before anything else, they called it “the best summer ever.” Now, six years later, Kirkland was expanding upon why that was so.
“During the trip I studied my uncle. My uncle showed me…giving up isn’t an option.
I want to be someone who everyone can relate to and make connections with.”
Our words in the form of lectures and books can teach children what they want to be but it is in our actions they learn who they want to be. We aren’t always aware when they are watching us and it is in even the most common of circumstances that our treatment of others is setting an example. It is in the way we speak to a cashier at Kroger, or address the wait staff at Corky’s. It is the manner in which we react to unexpected challenges or unforeseen circumstances and in the process negate the “do as I say not as I do” method of teaching.
Streets Ministries, an organization that provides a safe haven for Memphis students to learn, play and be mentored, hosted an event at their facilities this week during which CBS’ Clark Kellogg and Manny Ohonme spoke inspiration to a room full of young, impressionable kids. The event, sponsored by Smith & Nephew, was family friendly, complete with all the hamburgers and hot dogs one could eat, courtesy of Simply Delicious Caterings. I arrived early for the event with my six-year old in tow and, as such, was able to watch the staff and students interact before the event officially began. I saw the attention given each student who approached a staff member with questions. I was mindful of staff members’ body language when a younger child ran up, appearing frustrated. When my own son became agitated in having to “wait for a hot dog” a staff member walked over to us. “I’ve been there. I understand,” she said and the compassion in her eyes and care in her voice were palpable.
I left the event with a clearer understanding of what my nephew Kirkland experienced that summer he spent observing his uncle. We learn so much by watching others when they are least aware they are being watched. Our words are powerful, yes, but it is in the quiet observation of our actions that true character is revealed. Just as Kirkland wants to be that person to whom everyone can relate and make connections with, Streets Ministries has employed a staff with these very characteristics that my young, impressionable nephew holds in such high esteem. To them, and to Streets Ministries Executive Director Reggie Davis, I say “thank you for your compassion and for making the connection with those who need it most. Thank you for showing us that giving up is not an option.”