A friend who was a high school principal for many years tells the story of chatting with one of his honor-roll female students in her senior year.
“If you could have anything you want in life—anything—what would that look like? What’s your biggest dream?”
The girl looked slightly taken aback, as if she had never considered a question of this sort. Then she offered, tentatively:
“Well, I’ve always sort of wanted to get married and live in a double-wide trailer.”
Are you kidding me?
This is the nature of growing up in Appalachia.
I remember when I was in seventh grade; our English teacher assigned us weekly theme papers. One assignment was to write on what we wanted “to be” when we grew up.
I wrote about being a hairdresser.
I’ll never forget my teacher’s comments on the top of the page when he returned my paper: “Your choice surprises me.”
I was one of his best students. Loved to write. But it never occurred to me that I could ever use those talents to be more in life.
No one encouraged me to do so.
Friends, I’m not ashamed to say that I read this first chapter through streaming tears.
Mr. Strickland is the founder and CEO of Manchester Bidwell, a “community arts-education and job training center in Pittsburgh”. In this first chapter, entitled From the Ghetto to Harvard Business School, he describes the start and the heart of his program.
Mr. Strickland states, “…Manchester Bidwell wasn’t crafted out of corporate vision or business savvy. It happened because a clueless nineteen-year-old trusted his unspoken intuition that the human spirit is remarkably resilient, and that even in damaged and disadvantaged lives, and in circumstances where the odds seem hopelessly stacked against you, there is endless potential waiting to be freed.”
No, I have never lived the defeating life of an inner city youth, but poverty speaks a language that I understand very well.
It is one of making do. Of taking it day by day. Expecting the worst. And never hoping.
Because hope only disappoints.
In this book, Mr. Strickland tells a different story. He tells of giving hope to those who have never possessed it. And the results are astounding.
“More than 90 percent of the kids who come to us get their high school diplomas and 85 percent enroll in college or some other form of higher education…Almost 80 percent of our adult students complete their vocational training and 86 percent of them find employment after graduation…”
He speaks of giving beauty, respect, trust…to a population of forgotten people who have never had these things.
Friends, it has made a difference to many. Mr. Strickland even makes the bold statement that his mission is “to turn people’s lives around”.
And he is doing it.
In writing Making the Impossible Possible, Strickland states that his purpose it to reveal to others that “all of us have the potential to make our dreams come true, and that one of the greatest obstacles blocking us from realizing that potential is that we believe, or are told, the things we want most passionately are impractical, unrealistic, or somehow beyond our reach.”
Friends, I will turn 40 years old next week and I am still learning that it is okay to dream.
Perhaps we all are.
I’m looking forward to reading more of what this book has to say. Join me and the Higher Calling Book club every Monday for further discussions.
I am excited to be participating in a book club every Monday, through the Higher Calling blogs. I recently joined the Higher Calling online community and have been overwhelmed by the talent I’ve found there. So many wonderful poets and writers all in one place! If you’ve visited my friend L.L. Barkat over at Seedlings in Stone, you will have an idea of the quality of writing at Higher Calling. Stop by and give them a read, and join up if you like what you see!