Last night we gathered at the tutoring center for our evening session together after a long day of painting houses and loving kids. Our pastor had invited members of our youth group to join us for the evening, and after he introduced them all, he invited them to answer some questions and share a bit about their lives here. They talked about their families, where their parents were from, how long they had lived in the community, where they lived, (Kenwood was seriously represented, with the majority of the kids being from our street), etc.
Every one of them had a story about how the violence of our community had touched them very personally–losing friends, witnessing murders, having bullets come into their apartments. One young boy told us about a drive-by that happened in front of his house that resulted in bullets flying through their living room window and striking his sister in the arm. He was thankful to God that the bullets had only hit her arm and not her head, he told us.
Our youngest V2LA participant (an 8 year-old) asked why nobody was doing anything to make the violence stop. And then he told us that if he were President, that would be the first thing he would do.
The kids all shared about their desires for getting a good education, for staying out of trouble, for being kids who, in one girl’s words, lived like they had a future. Two of our youth who have been a part of our church since its very beginnings told us about the program they are in that requires Saturday school every week from sixth grade through high school, high grades and test scores, and strong parental involvement: and how when they graduate, they will be given a free ride at USC down the street.
I closed our time sharing a bit about the things I love about raising my family here. I spoke about the high level of relationship and community we experience every day. On this crowded street, living a private, secluded life is simply not an option. Life is something we all do together, every day. I shared also about the high level of generosity I have witnessed over and over again from my neighbors, and how we have been invited to practice generosity as well. I told the group about how just last week a neighbor had rung our bell and handed over two bags filled with the best brands of baby gear (stuff we couldn’t afford, for sure!) that a wealthy Beverly Hills doctor had given to her to share with someone she knew of in need in her community (she cleans houses and this was a family she cleaned for). As someone recently shared with me, “you can’t out-give the poor…”
And lastly, I shared about how our children were being formed here to understand God’s love and mercy and to see the mission of the church as something radical and consuming and not merely peripheral to the rest of their lives. My kids are growing up thinking that it is perfectly normal to have homeless people as friends; to have people of different colors and languages regularly in their home; to buy and prepare food for people who are hungry.
As hard as this week has been for me emotionally, as I spoke last night I was reminded why living here is good.