Tuesday, February 03, 2009

One Little Sheep

There is a story in the Bible about a shepherd with 100 sheep. One night, he is putting all of the sheep back in their pen and only counts 99 of them. He secures the 99 sheep and then goes to search high and low for the one missing sheep.

My heart hurts today for that one missing sheep.

Some of you know that I used to be the executive director for a non-profit music school for children from low-income families. Hundreds of children who were considered "at-risk" youth came through the school while I worked there, and for the most part, I have all of these warm fuzzy feelings about success stories. Children who decided to go to college. Children who earned places in the premier youth orchestra here in town. Children who got music scholarships to college. A clarinetist who ended up the top player in the state and is now at Harvard. Children who I when I bump into them, still give me a hug and have something good to say about their experience at the school.

Funding was granted because of our successes and our mission. Who could say no to giving music lessons and instruments to at-risk youth? Even the White House thought the program was super and in 2004 I took one of our students there to accept a Coming Up Taller Award from Laura Bush. I was proud of the work we did and the families we helped.

This morning, I turned on the news and saw the other side of the coin.

About six years ago, there was a little boy who had all the cards stacked against him. He was withdrawn. His mother got him to lessons late if she got him there at all. He was unresponsive with his teacher, although he really really wanted to learn to play. He was 10 years old with a tough guy attitude already trapping him behind a thick defensive wall. When his lessons were over though, he would come see me while he waited for his mother who often had to be called long after his lesson was over and told to come pick him up. We would talk, rather, I would talk and he would give me one word answers and at least one smile every week. He was the kind of boy that I knew had it in him to do great things, but had no support system. I fought like crazy to keep him in the program. Convinced his teacher weekly to be patient with him, rode his mother to get him there and get him there on time, and skirted around the attendance rules so that he wouldn't be kicked out. By the time he was 13, he disappeared. Phone disconnected, mail returned. Lost from our radar.

Last night he was arrested for murder. He's 16 years old.

It breaks my heart. It reminds me to look at the kids who get into trouble with the law and remember that at some point, somebody believed in them. It reminds me that most of the time, these are kids who had insurmountable issues at home, if they even had a home. Sure, they made their own choices and have to answer for them, but somewhere along the way, he was let down by the people who should have done right by him.

When I saw his mugshot on the news, I didn't see a murderer. I saw the little boy who never lost his drumsticks and always wanted to have his lesson even when his ride dropped him off so late that the next student had already started.

This little boy had potential to succeed, and the adults in his life failed him. Then he failed himself. I'm just so sad. I wish that I had tried harder to find this one sheep and keep him with us. Keep him in a program where he could learn self respect, good self esteem, and self discipline.

The 99 continue to make it worth all the work, but my heart is broken today for the one little sheep.

Cross posted at Triangle Mamas.