"My handsome little tough man. Hey Zae, you should go check out the swings," I said powering on my laptop.
"But, what are you about to blog about Rahk?" "How you know I'm blogging, Zae?" "Because I know," he said smiling.
Xavier is very inquisitive, impressionable and intuitive. He clocks my every move.
"Why don't you write about me?"
"Hmm Zae, you know what? I think I will."
"What will you call it?"
"I'll call it exposure," I smiled.
We're sitting in a park less than a mile away from Lakeshore Learning (a teacher/educator resource warehouse). We took the hike up there from our little cozy side of town. I picked up a couple of workbook tools to assist he and his sister. Him specifically, we're working on reading, phonics, and comprehension.
Before heading to the park, I gave one of my many "Dr. King speeches." I usually give a speech a couple of times a day. Typically they are laced with affirmations and positive outcomes of how "lit" he and his sister's future will be IF they keep working hard and growing. I try to keep them motivated. It's been a journey for us. We're still buying into this family thing at times. This time I talked about pride, my understanding of their embarrassment and my commitment to their success.
Reading is a sensitive struggle area for him. At 8yrs old, he moved in with me reading on a kindergarten level and a grade behind.
So, yeah, we have lots of work to do. I usually start with confidence, followed by the transparency of my own struggle areas and the importance of playing catch up. Overall, Xavier buys in (when he isn't frustrated with himself). I also created a little group between the three of us. We call ourselves TTS (yes, it's top secret. If we tell you what it means - we'll have to kill you).
TTS provides a sense of ownership, safety, and trust between the three of us. It's a motivator for him and his sister. I love that they love it!
I can honestly say they're so resilient and adapting very well here. As the youngest, Zae is more malleable and continuously exceeds my expectations. To think, he's the one I didn't want to take initially. I was afraid of not being able to handle his baggage. However, his potential and what he represents in this world as a young Black boy is so significant to me. He's one of the best things that has ever happened to me. He and his sister :).
We celebrated his 10th birthday a couple of days ago. The happiness on his face is priceless. He's living a completely different life than the one he knew a year ago.
You see, Xavier is from Inglewood a neighboorhood on Chicago's southside. He's from a place where gunplay, drugs, and violence is normalized - not to mention all the traumatic things he's witnessed at home. Little boys from his neighborhood statistically won't amount to much. They usually grow up to be the same junkies, bodies, and offenders that they see being arrested or outlined in chalk.
Last year Zae missed over 30+ days of school and was tardy well over 40 times. He's now living in Buckhead, Atlanta at a nationally ranked elementary school, as a minority and making the honor roll while receiving perfect attendance awards.
He's watching me as I type this. And, I'm occasionally looking up at his smiling face. He's playing with kids around the park. I can hear him recalling his birthday party and how cool his cake was.
He had a custom Stephen Curry jersey cake. It had his age and last name on it. Zae had never seen a custom cake. Poor baby didn't even realize it was a cake nor has he ever had a real birthday party. It was important to me that I showed him how appreciated he is. Xavier has been working so hard lately. He had invitations, surprise guest, the big number balloons, and activities.
We ended the night with reserved seating for ten at an IMAX screening of Black Panther. Dressed in his Malcolm X T-shirt, Zae loved every sec of the movie and the exposure to black pride. Earlier that day his barber hooked him up a complimentary haircut. I added a bit of color the night before (he's been begging to color his hair ever since I put him on to football player OBJ) We didn't' go OBJ bright though but a little lighter. Wearing black frontal framed glasses, jewelry, and a watch - Xavier looked nothing like that Inglewood kid who moved in with me.
Can we say exposure? Oh, by the way, this is his first time having a barber too. He loves the ownership in this as well.
The days leading up to now were exposure filled also. Heck, the entire 381 days he's been here has been exposure filled. It's a blessing to be he and his sister's first of many down to the smallest things we take for granted - things they never heard of, foods they never tasted, consistency, love, structure, and sights they never saw.
He and his sister accompanied me to a speaking engagement yesterday at The University of West Georgia. Wearing my backpack, Zae strutted around the campus as if he owned it. "I'm going to get straight A's when I'm in college and have cool professors," he said before changing his mind.
"Well Rahk, I may own a few business before college and may not even go. "
I smile listening to him. His conversations and thoughts are different. His confidence is different. Now, he jokes about putting his million dollar home on the market and investing his funds before becoming a pilot and engineer. He teases his sister about her grammar and how his book will sell more copies than mine. He is observant, ambitious, relentless and passionate about being the best him he can be. It is such a delight watching him grow, learn and discover. He deserves every bit of his new life. All he needed was a chance. He needed an advocate.
My dearest Zae, someday you'll be old enough to read this and understand everything. You are essential, and your contribution to this planet is necessary. I vow to continue setting you up for success (by any means necessary, X). I mean this. I'm committed and loyal to the responsibility that God has blessed me with, in you.
For now, I hope you enjoy your day at the park. Be carefree. Finally, be a kid. I will continue to keep fighting for you. When you get older, I pray that you'll fight for other little boys as I with you.