One of the most satisfying feelings in life comes from bumping into someone years later who tells you how much they appreciated the mentoring you provided when they were struggling to get their act together, to get past a low point in their life. I was fortunate enough to have such an encounter a few days ago when I ran into Pablo (not his real name), a young Puerto Rican dude that had been in a construction training class I helped to facilitate years ago.
As I recall, he was a good student struggling with the remnants of a host of bad choices. He had fallen victim to substance abuse after starting out selling drugs, and was striving to stay clean because he didn’t want to lose access to his two children that he obviously doted on.
But let me back up just a bit so as to put our chance meeting into context.
A week or so before our encounter I was hosting a “friend raiser” at Goldhorn Brewery, which is on 55th near St.Clair Avenue, right on the northern edge of Ward 7. My friend Rick (the owner) was gracious enough to allow me to use his brewery, but more importantly, he invited some of the Slovenians, Lithuanians and other ethnics that still live in the ward, but have never laid eyes on the current councilman.
To this elected official, they — and residents of the downtown part of the ward — simply don’t exist … at least not until election time when he wants their votes.
As I sat chatting with the residents about their issues and concerns, a gregarious Puerto Rican resident of the ward, Juan, whom I’d never met before, came over and got right to the point: The fairly substantial Puerto Rican community — centered around East 65th and Superior — felt that they too had been totally neglected by the current councilman. He wanted to pledge his support.
When I called him a few days later to follow up he invited me to festival his community was holding at Roberto Clemente Park on the near west side. He said that it would be a great opportunity to meet some of his neighbors that reside in Ward 7.
By the time late Saturday afternoon rolled around I’d had a grueling day out campaigning and putting in some hours finishing up a few construction details on the winery we’re about to open. I was bone tired, as my body painfully reminded me that I’m not nearly as young as I once was or try to pretend to still be.
I was all set to take a pass when General Patton (better known at my wife and campaign manager, Brenda) reminded me in that voice of hers that I would have to quickly freshen up so that I could make it to the park in time. I grumbled, and then did as I had been instructed; you don’t argue with a general.
It didn’t take me but a minute to find Juan in the park since he’s a DJ and was keeping time to the beat right near the fairly elaborate control board. He was glad I made it and true to his word he handed off the controls to the guy working with him and introduced me around to some folks.
I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so after about five minutes I was all set to leave when Pablo ran over to me. I have to admit I didn’t recognize him at first. He’s matured, and now sports a full beard.
“Mr. Frazier!” he exclaimed, beaming. “It’s me, Pablo, from the construction training class years ago!” Indeed, it was.
His words came tumbling out as he pumped my hand in his strong grip. His kids are doing very well … his man-child a student/athlete at the University of Toledo, and his daughter entering her junior year at Cleveland State.
“Man, I never forgot the encouragement you gave me and the other dudes … for many of us it was the first time in years that someone believed in us, made us believe that we could be successful.”
I’m here to tell you, it’s not a pretty sight, seeing a dark-skinned black man blush, but Pablo was making my day — nay, my entire month.
“Yeah, you don’t know how close I came to dropping out of class and going back to hustling because I was so broke. And then one day you told us about being broke a couple of times in your life years ago, and you said, ‘Dude, being broke ain’t shit, I took my last dollar and bought a wallet. You’ll get some more money.’ I never forgot that.”
Pablo stayed the course, got a job installing solar panels upon graduation. About six months later he and another student took me out to breakfast. They wanted me to see how well they were doing.
Now he helps to run a nonprofit mentoring youth from his community. “I’m just trying to pass it on,” Pablo said before we parted, me walking ten feet off the ground.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.