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Thursday, August 21, 2014

One Man's Efforts to Save At-risk Kids

"Ya got trouble, right here in River City...
Trouble with a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool..."

Would that such lyrics summed up the depth of the trouble our River City (Memphis) had to deal with. We are long past pool hall problems, and the ones who know that best are frequently helpless to do anything about it.

St. Andrews has had a long standing and ever deepening relationship with inner city youth and families thanks to our friendship with Norman Redwing. I have known his family since the late 1980's and my work at Holy Names Catholic. I have known Ron a long time, but did not meet Norman until working downtown Memphis at St. Mary's Cathedral. He served at the local middle school (Humes, where Elvis himself attended in the day!). Norman was an energetic worker who sought ways to reinforce the kids making an effort to better themselves and I was able to connect him with some generous donors who supplied his kids with funding for materials and activities. Schools in poor neighborhoods are doubly burdened because there is a lack of local resources available and the surrounding neighborhoods are sometimes dangerous and rarely supportive to academic success. The efforts of people like Norman are literally a life saving work. I ended up serving with a teacher group in attempting to make improvements. One was struck by the overwhelming challenges faced.

Sadly, what appears to have been an inside burglary cleaned out the audiovisual materials, television and other things. To this day I cannot understand how someone could have stolen from those needy kids. Soon after, hired by St. Andrews, I bid farewell to St. Mary's Cathedral and drove thirty miles east to (the once rural small town, now a growing, thriving suburban jewel) of Collierville and its 110 year old church. One thing I carried to this parish was a commitment to do something for folks in need. My relationship with Norman continued.

In recent years we have not only given them significant sums of money, but more importantly time and relationships. People here and there have made connections to their mutual benefit. A yearly shared meal is a time of deep blessing and joy. VBS, picnics, prayer meetings and other shared activities have been relatively easy to pull off. The remarkable difference that small things make is a reminder that we can make a bigger impact than we realize.

Norman and I speak at least weekly. I hear his joy with every success. I get reports on what happened for kids who went on a trip we sponsored, or the benefits to families at a dinner we provided. He is always focused on what redemptive works God is doing on the micro level. I hear the joy and gratitude and it is wonderful. Here lately, however, it has not all been upbeat. Two children have been shot and killed recently. He told me that there were five shootings in Memphis last night. One young man was a bystander, but he had been dabbling in gang related activities. The other child, aged 11, had the back of his head blown off. Norman repeated those words a couple times, a poignant indication of how deeply it had affected him. This was not a news story for my friend, it was his life and someone whom he knew and loved. He spoke about the shootings in Chicago and several other cities, repeating over and over "we cannot figure out what is going on and why." For some time the violence had seemed to be abating. "They are doing drive bys again," he said. He has theories. Perhaps it is a way to grab media attention. Gangs, now called "organizations" may be expanding. "Crazy initiations" may be part of the problem. He isn't sure that in some cases they are trying to kill folks, just shoot them. He wonders if police are undermanned and overworked. He and others like him are involved with information gathering and solution creation.

Yet he is always upbeat. He believes in God and loves the Lord. His own challenges (a young son with a medical condition, a job downsizing which cost him his insurance and income) are always minimized; "God is good, God is good!" That is why the folks at St. Andrews are so generous to his requests. We know Norman is doing God's work. He is the front line and we are his support team. His laughter and smile, and openness and honesty are a great gift to inner city kids and folks in the suburbs.

He was enthusiastic about me writing this blog today. He wants you to know and search your own heart for how you can help. We ask for your prayers for his work and for the children and families he serves. At core, that is what this is all about: our shared human condition.The need is so great. Please spend some time today asking the Father to bless this work. And maybe find your own angel to support in such godly work, or send Norman a bit to help him and his. There are a million stories in River City, some of them are "Trouble", it is our decision to be part of the solution.

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