A new year beckons – a new beginning. Beginnings offer optimism and hope of what might be possible. Change invites reflection and a path toward significant change, perhaps even transformation.
Over the years my life has been dedicated to positive change, transformation, once as a priest, in academia, and now as a psychotherapist. I have had the privilege of working with people committed to growth in themselves and in others. I would like to share one very special experience of transformation with you.
The boy/man is James Hobson – he thinks that might be his name. He is not sure if that is his real name because he does not know his biological parents; there is no birth certificate. He has chosen Christmas day to be his birthday, for the apparent reason of being transformed by a faith inspired community. By the time he was fifteen he had been placed in thirty two foster homes, attended twenty two schools, and was homeless by the age of fifteen.
James was around twenty when I met him in the west side ghetto of Chicago. He was the leader of a three thousand member gang named the Vice Lords. He had been arrested sixty six times for gang activity. He was known as “Caveman”.
I was there as a volunteer in the Cabrini project begun by Rev. Charles La Verde. He was concerned about the violence and death present in the community and began this outreach effort to touch and transform their lives. James came to Cabrini to play pool. He was greeted by a group of caring people who treated him with respect and invited him to look at another way to live. Over the period of three months James experienced a loving “family” who truly cared about him. He began to change.
The impact of the spirit of the Cabrini volunteers opened new doors for James. He clearly needed to escape his surroundings. Military service was an option. He was rejected by all four branches. Finally, after many petitions and interventions by significant individuals, James was admitted into the Army. In the course of his military stint he earned two bronze stars, three presidential commendations, and six other medals. He attained the rank of sergeant.
Upon his return to Chicago, James was given the key to the city by Mayor Daley and a college scholarship. James wanted to give something back to the community and has for many years worked through the parks and recreation department to reach gang members. Currently, he is Director of the largest park district in Chicago. He tirelessly reaches out to the estranged impoverished youth, in whom he can readily see himself. A few years ago the cover story for the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday magazine carried an eight page story about James.
A few years ago a banquet honoring James was held in Chicago. Father LaVerde, at this time was trying to start another Cabrini project in the south side ghetto, hoped that the youth of his community would listen to someone who had “been there”. (The night before a thirteen-year-old boy was killed near the church for crossing the street into the Latin Kings’ turf.) A few of us former volunteers came for a reunion with James and with each other. James told his story. Tears of joy and love were shed. Embraces filled the room. The evolving story of transformation had been explained. A new man stood on stage, grateful and proud, yet tearful from the emotional damage experienced in his childhood. I have been blessed to have been a part of this “new beginning” of James. He is my friend.
There are other James’ out there – people of incredible potential. May you and I see them, hear them, be with them – love them – be an agent of transformation! New beginnings are possible!
Happy New Year! Make it a special year. You deserve that!
“The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates