Spring Broken

31 03 2011

The throngs of students is thinning along Florida’s Gulf Coast. I have just returned from a pleasant drive through Panama City Beach. There are still some young bucks and pretty fillies roaming the resorts, but for the most part, the college crowd has returned to their respective campuses. In their wake, is what, my partner David refers to as the “spring broken.”

These are the people who flock to the Beach to cash in on the partying with no intent on furthering their higher education. They usually go the way of the homeless.

Sitting outside of McDonald’s the other day, enjoying my smoothie drink and soaking up the sunshine, I was confronted by one of the Broken. My mistake was making eye contact, which gave him the green light to proceed.

“Hey Brother, can you spare a few dollars so I can get something to eat,” said the Broken man.

It always begins with “Brother.”

During my campaign, I encountered many homeless people. Such was the state of affairs in area crippled by a disastrous oil spill and weak economy. I made it a priority to shine the light on their struggles and to visit organizations dedicated to lending a helping hand.

Sadly, I also found that not every “Broken” person wants a way out of their situation.

“My wife and I are on the street,” the man continued, although their was no sign of this ‘wife’ and he didn’t appear to be starving.

I looked at the man again in the eyes — without uttering a word.

He read my mind and moved along, mumbling to himself all the way. I felt uncompassionate at first, but knowing the street life, I realized he had the ability to find shelter and provisions for his family, if they did exist, and my two cents would have little affect. There are those who are truly in dire circumstances and this man was not one of them. Broken maybe, but still capable of pulling up his boot straps.

Balancing compassion with security has become a major theme of Panama City’s municipal election. What voters need to hear now, more than anything, is a success story. We know the causes of homelessness — mental illness, substance abuse and poverty just to name a few. And we have seen the Broken walking the streets, gathering at the Mission and sleeping on park benches.

What we, as a community, need to see now is the ones who made it out alive. The ones who pulled themselves up by their boot straps and with a little help from Uncle Sam, the Almighty or an unsung guardian angel, graduated to a productive life.

My walk through humility forever changed how I view society. It gave me a unique perspective on the plight of the less fortunate. I can voice my observations and opinions confidently because I have walked in their shoes.

To me, the bottom line to getting out of the bottom of the pit is recognizing where you are.

There is help out there. The first step is seeking it.

 

 

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Adopting a New View of Parenting

15 03 2011

We’re in the midst of ‘Spring Break.’ An American rite of passage. And I’m staying as far away from the action as I can.

Been there. Done that.

As a college prepster at Troy, my fraternity brothers and I made the annual trek to PCB to engage in the festive atmosphere. We would hit the beach during the day, chug a lot of beer, talk about sports and gaze at the girls before getting cleaned up for a night at the clubs.

Places like the Boardwalk and the Summit are still etched in my mind. I was such a dork back then. I wasn’t much into physical fitness in college, not like I am now. I was more concerned with equations and hypothesis, particularly when it came to sports teams.

So, I kept my shirt on at the beach. No need to let — as some of my fraternity brothers dubbed it — “the bird chest” out of its cage.

They say college is all about self discovery. I discovered, thanks to my fraternity, the differences and similarities that bring young men together. Beer also breaks down a lot of barriers.

These days, most of my fraternity brothers are married with children. I wonder what it’s like.

Tonight, I attended a presentation on adoption in the State of Florida. The attorney, a Harvard educated Jewish woman from New York, explained the situation for same-sex couples and for the first time, I thought long and hard about fatherhood.

There are so many children in the State’s system in need of loving and caring homes. Crime and poverty have left innocent children yearning for a positive parental environment. This being another discovery from the campaign trial.

The fact that I am no longer drawn to the beach parties or long nights clubbing is a sign that I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life. My relationship with David has truly made me wiser and healthier and I would like nothing more than to continue on that path through mentorship.

Through the course of the campaign, as I visited community after community hit hard by the recession, I came to realize how privileged my childhood was. My parents made many sacrifices in order for my brother and I to live comfortably. This I now see clearly. By the same token, thanks to my travels and adventures as a journalist, I am keenly aware of the dangers out there and influences that can lead to broken homes.

So, in conclusion, if I can make a difference — for the better — in the life of a disadvantaged child, then I feel it is my duty as a humble public servant to volunteer.

And with this I have graduated from ‘Spring Break’ as we have known it.