Every couple of days I run into someone who asks me, “So, did George win that van?” If you missed our little campaign back in the spring, you can go back and read about it here. I entered my friend George, who stays with us at Rutba House, into a national contest to win a handicap accessible van. George was shot in our neighborhood about a year and a half ago and is paralyzed from the neck down. He could have used the van. But, unfortunately, he didn’t get.
Thanks to many of you, though, he did get over fourteen thousand votes–enough popular support to put him in the semi-finalist pool to be considered by a selection committee. “Man,” George said when we were waiting to hear back, “I’d feel bad if I did win. I was looking at some of those other stories—little kids that can’t get around, whole families that need a van. They need it more than I do.” Maybe so, but everybody needs to know that others care about them. There’s nothing like fourteen thousand people cheering for you to lift your spirits.
I asked George if there was anything he’s like to say to all the people who supported him in the campaign. “Tell ‘em I said, ‘Thank you’—that I really appreciate it,” he said. “And tell ‘em we’ll try again next year. We’ll get started earlier and win that thing!”When he got an email about the campaign, a friend sent an “I Am Second” video of Tyrone Flowers, a fellow from Kansas City. I showed it to George, and he watched it several times.
Later that night, I could tell George was thinking about something. I asked him what he thought of the video. “It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s like he’s living my life, only he’s made something out of it.” I wrote a friend in Kansas City and made a connection with Tyrone. A couple of weeks later, he called George at home. They talked for two hours.
About that time, George started saying he’d like to talk to kids about street life. Just last week, he came down to our neighborhood summer camp. I got to hear what he’s been wanting to say for the first time. It was good stuff about how the street life might look good, but it can end in a second. He told the kids they better figure out now who their real friends are. But what impressed me the most was how the kids were on the edge of their seats, soaking up every word of it. Because this wasn’t the counselor on break from college talking. It wasn’t the white-guy who relocated here from somewhere else talking. It was someone they’d known and looked up to all their lives. They wanted to listen.
“Now,” George said when he was done talking, “I wanted to know if any of ya’ll heard what I was saying?”
They did. Because everyone–and not the least of them, George–knew he had something to say.