Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
My baby turned nine this week. And the young man who’s lived with my family for the last year and a half turned twenty-two the same day. The differences and similarities between them are remarkable. Levi is small for his age and wiry. At 6’5 and muscular, T is a gentle giant. While Levi is biracial and has skin the color of a latte with lots of milk, T’s is strong coffee, no cream. And though Levi got off to a rough start at eleven months when my abusive marriage to his father ended, he’s grown up fairly sheltered and has never known poverty. In fact, because I was fortunate enough to meet his stepfather when Levi was a toddler and marry him by the time he entered kindergarten, he’s led a privileged existence. In some ways, he’s had many advantages. T’s experience couldn’t be more different.
Like Levi, T came from a home with no father present. His childhood was transient with him, his mother and five brothers moving from one bad neighborhood to the next. Though she tried to provide for her boys, this single mom struggled in various ways. One by one, each of T’s siblings ended up in jail. A victim of the poverty cycle and with only my husband as a positive male role model, T dropped out of high school. The stage was set for him to travel the same road far too many young African American men take.
I’d fallen in love with T back when my husband first told me about the special little boy he’d been mentoring since he was ten. From the moment I met him, rough edges and all, I saw something in him that made me believe he had a chance. It was a glimpse of myself. Having come from nearly identical circumstances, I saw the yearning in his eyes for something better and determined I’d come alongside my husband and do whatever it took to get T on a path to success. With some encouragement, he enrolled in Cincinnati Job Corps to earn his GED and got his own apartment. The day we attended his graduation and heard Yvette McGee Brown, the first African American female justice on the Ohio Supreme Court (who incidentally came from the same background as T and me) deliver his commencement address I knew he was on his way.
When T called and asked for a place to stay because his place was infested with bed bugs, I didn’t hesitate to invite him for as long as he needed to get on his feet. From day one, I can honestly say, though he grew up practically on the streets, his behavior and attitude are impeccable and would put many, regardless of their upbringing, to shame.
Since joining our family, T has seen that there is a better way to live and it has nothing to do with affluence. He got a job immediately and has an incredible work ethic. He voluntarily pulls his weight with housework and helps taxi Liv and Levi around and with homework (they call him their Manny). He eats healthier, exercises, dresses, walks and very intentionally talks differently than when he came to us.
Whereas all of the other young people in our home show between low to moderate interest in reading unless it’s required for school, T reads the dictionary just to improve his vocabulary. On trips to the library he picks up inspirational books. The other boys tease him about watching motivational speakers on YouTube and practicing his math in the various notebooks he carries around. T doesn’t mind the teasing because his efforts have paid off. Today he’s in his first semester finals at Miami Hamilton.
We don’t accept room or board from T. The fact that he’s in college while all of his brothers are incarcerated is payment enough. He’s a wonderful investment, as are all young people. So keep your eyes open to those little guys, whatever the color of their skin, whatever their background. All they may need to succeed is for an adult to help them get on their feet and to set them on the right road.
T’s on his feet alright. Now I pray Levi will follow in his footsteps down the road less traveled.