How Have You Been?
I couldn’t help but shudder as I listened to Keshune talk to his Father on the phone. A father who was at the wrong place at the wrong time fourteen years ago was now confined to listening to his son’s past year and a half of life via phone. Keshune shared about how he’s taking care of his mom and his sister. He laughingly talked about how sweaty he gets making waffle fries at his first summer job. He shared about making A/B honor roll at Enloe last year and how he now hates 10th grade because of Spanish 1. He shared about the farm he works at on Saturdays and joked about his nickname being “Big Turnip” (a farm pun of his actual nickname “Big Turn Up”). Then he innocently—yet hauntingly—asked his dad, “How have you been?”
Limited to one side of the phone, I don’t know how he answered…
But as Keshune silently-paced, listening to his father, I dozed out of the present, remembering back to when I first met him. He was twice the size, both in height and weight, of all the other middle schoolers, and he often heard about it. His peers would heckle him until he was compelled to physically intimidate them. Whenever he shook your hand he would squeeze with the strength of an angry NFL linebacker so that you would physically submit to his power. Being friends with one of his mentors, I was told that he was difficult and didn’t like to try hard. Keshune had developed a harsh and angry shell to protect the wounds one acquires in adolescence.
Keshune, and every other child—including your child-self, experiences moments in life where you’re told you needed to be something else—that your “you-ness” isn’t good enough. That your “you” isn’t cool, special, or wanted.
Identifying the Spark
As Keshune sat back down next to me, having hung up the phone, I was awakened back to reality. The Keshune that was just on the phone was so different from the Keshune I had met four years earlier. And it wasn’t because he had a job. It wasn’t his good grades. It wasn’t because someone straightened him out. It was something deeper.
Father Greg Boyle says, “Be allergic to asking people to measure up, instead, return people to themselves. Hold a mirror up and tell them who they are, the truth about who they are so they may begin to or once again inhabit that truth!”
Boyle eloquently captures the difference. Keshune has learned the truth about himself. This truth, constantly coming from multiple healthy relationships through Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N), has him on what the Stanford Research Institute calls “a pathway to human thriving.”
Nationally, only 25% of kids in high school are on the pathway to thriving. The other 75% have fallen off that path: life is no longer about purpose, hope, connectedness, engagement or joy. It’s about independence, survival, and winning, which leads to high rates of confusion, grief, and stress.
N2N helps kids find and name their “truth,” which at N2N, we call “spark.” If kids know their Sparks, have three or more “Spark Champions,” and the opportunity to live out their Sparks, all the data shows that grades, joy, confidence, empathy, and attendance go through the roof while violence, depression, anger, and fear dwindle.
Keshune knows his Sparks: his skills, commitments, and qualities. His truth.
- Skills: Farming and Math
- Commitments: Making others laugh, bringing happiness and energy to others.
- Qualities: Working hard and listening to others
Whenever the world tells Keshune that his “you-ness” isn’t good enough, Keshune now has relationships in his life that reaffirm and remind him of the truth about who he is.
I spoke at the N2N Breakfast Fundraiser last week and asked Keshune what I should say to a room full of 300 people about N2N. He told me: “tell them it’s lit.” I laughed and explained that no one would understand what “lit” means, to which he quickly responded, “Well, you better tell them!”
So, I opened my talk to 300 professionals last Thursday by stating, “N2N is lit.” The whole room laughed, and for the next 6 minutes there was an energy in the room that fueled my talk.
Keshune’s advice also reminded me of a timeless quote from Greek philosopher Plutarch, “People are not vessels to be filled but fires to be lit.”
People matter. Too often in the world of nonprofits, civic engagement, and ministry we treat people as vessels to be filled with our truths, ideas, commitments, and skills neglecting that they have been created with their own.
Keshune’s innate kindling is lit! He’s on fire. And now, he’s helping make others ‘lit’ too. May we all follow his example in both being and living a life that is lit.
– Spencer Hathcock, Neighbor to Neighbor