Dreams From A Shelter

How a young boy’s compassion is saving his family

The election is over, and even though certain efforts to prolong it are still in play, it seems that the insanity of the past 18 months is finally subsiding a little. Now, a new problem has arisen, and it is finally gaining traction in the Mainstream Media, though their coverage is limited and sporadic. That issue is the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and the protests held in opposition.

There are many different versions of the DAPL issue depending on which side you listen to. Even the protestors have different reasons for opposing it. Some say it is about sovereign lands and treaties. Others say it is about standing up to corporate bullies. But, far and wide, the majority of people oppose the DAPL because of the Missouri River.

The DAPL is proposed to cross the Missouri River just over the boundary of the Standing Rock Reservation. The indigenous people of that land are concerned that their water supply could be poisoned. And they are right to be concerned. Between 2010-2015, over 3,300 pipeline incidents were reported in the US. They caused land, water, and air

Left: Map of existing pipelines in the US (National Pipeline Mapping System)     Right: Map of Pipeline incidents, 2010-2015 (Center For Effective Government)

pollution, death, and billions in damage. A leak of the DAPL at the Missouri River would not only be a huge problem for the Native Americans at Standing Rock, it would be a huge problem for the millions of people south of that land who also depend on the Missouri River as a source of clean drinking water.

The #NoDAPL protestors call themselves Water Protectors.

Though recent months have seen the brutal fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominating the headlines, it wasn’t so long ago that another competition was getting a lot of attention. Remember Bernie Sanders? I do.

And I remember that he has stood for the rights of all people for his entire political career.

Beginning of Bernie Sanders’ letter to President Obama regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, dated October 28, 2016

Including access to clean water. He has spoken out against the DAPL, though we still hear nothing from Trump, Clinton, Obama, or virtually any other political figures. Kinda like Bernie’s entire career – always speaking out, and always on the right side of an issue, even when nobody wanted to hear what he had to say.

Earlier this year, while still on the campaign trail fighting for his rightful place as the Democratic Presidential Nominee (and I want every Hillary supporter who is crying about Trump right now to think about that for a minute – Bernie would have crushed Trump), he spoke about that same issue – clean water – but the setting was very different. It wasn’t a community of indigenous Native Americans. It wasn’t the wilderness of North Dakota. And it wasn’t oil that was the concern.

It wasn’t a campaign issue for him. Bernie still speaks out for Flint, MI – this was from yesterday.

This was about Flint, MI. Remember that? A city of 100K residents who had unknowingly been drinking, cooking, and bathing in lead contaminated water due to mismanagement and corruption? An entire city poisoned. Remember the outrage? “How could this happen? In 2016, nobody should have to worry about access to clean water.” If you remember that, and you felt even a touch of outrage at the situation in Flint, you should understand the #NoDAPL protests.

But the DAPL isn’t what this story is about.

Remember that outrage that you felt when you heard about the residents of Flint, MI and what they were dealing with. Remember that as I tell you another, very different story.

This is the story of a woman named Lois Smith.

Lois is a resident of the Flint area. She has 3 children – two are grown, and one is 14. Her 14-year-old is autistic, and a student at the Carmen Ainsworth Middle School. Lois is a wonderful mother who cares deeply for her family, and has taught her family to be compassionate to others.

Lois’ daughter has a friend in her class. Autistic children often have trouble communicating and connecting with other people. But these two children have found a special bond with each other. When he came into the classroom for the first time a few months ago, he and Lois’ daughter immediately became friends. He tries to help her with her work, and helps to calm her down when she becomes anxious. He does everything he can to make Lois’ daughter feel safe and cared for.

This is the story of a boy named Javonte Grair.

Javonte Grair of Flint, MI

Javonte is 12 years old. He lives with his mother, who is disabled, and his 5 sisters. He comes to school every day and looks after his new friend. Like Lois’ own children, Javonte’s compassion extends beyond himself. He dreams of becoming a lawyer and helping the homeless. His family has been struggling with the clean water crisis right along with the rest of the families in Flint. And, as winter finally begins to wrap its cold fingers around Michigan, Lois has discovered something about her daughter’s new friend.

Like the people that he wants to help when he grows up, Javonte and his family are homeless.

The ABC affiliate in the Flint, WJRT, ran a story about an annual project in the area called Pictures of Hope. On November 21st, ABC 12 correspondent Angie Hendershot reported, “Earlier this fall, 12 homeless children were given cameras, and they were told to focus on their hopes, not their fears. They went out on assignment to capture a picture their dreams.” This is the third year that the project has been held.

Javonte was featured in the report, and Lois saw her daughter’s friend as he showed

Javonte shows off the room he shares with his family – he gets the top bunk.

Hendershot around the room filled with bunk beds that he shared with his family at the shelter. She watched as he pointed out a picture on the wall that showed him posing with a police officer that had befriended him. And she heard him tell the reporter, in his own words, how grateful he is for what he has, because he knows what it means to be without it.

“It’s good that I have a bed,” he told Hendershot, smiling at her as he said it. “I don’t have to live on the streets. I had nothing to drink or eat while I was on the streets.”

Lois was moved. This young boy, who feels lucky to have far less than most of us take for granted, still just wants to help others. That’s his dream. To be a benefit to others. To bring happiness. To be a source of light.

And, in that, he has succeeded. Lois set up a Go Fund Me to help Javonte and his family find a new home to live in before Christmas. In just a day, it has already received over $1,000 of its $2,500 goal. In Lois’ own words, “I, along with my family have decided to forego our usual Christmas, and will be using the money we would have spent on presents for each other to support getting Javonte and his family into a home of their own! We can think of nothing that would be more meaningful to us than knowing that they are able to be together and celebrate Christmas in their own home.”

This is a story about compassion.

Compassion is something that comes from within. It can be taught and learned, or it can be inherent. Until I had a child of my own, I wasn’t a very compassionate person. Since I have watched my son grow over the past 8 years, I try to teach him the importance of compassion for others, and in treating people the way we wish to be treated ourselves. If he comes away from those lessons with even half of the compassion that Lois’ family and Javonte have, I will consider myself successful in those efforts.

This is a story about community.

Community isn’t always the people close by. It isn’t necessarily the neighborhood or town you live in. Sometimes a community is spread out across the country, or even the world. I am proud to be part of a small community of like-minded individuals that came together in support of Bernie Sanders. When Bernie came onto the scene, he said things that many of us had never heard any politician say before. We heard someone actually stand up and

Bernie’s slogan was “A Future To Believe In”. It still is.

speak truth to power. And we knew what we had to do.

We fought and fought, and even when we were tired, we found the will to fight some more, because we knew what we were fighting for was right. And, somewhere along the way, we knew that we would never be able to stop fighting for what was right ever again.

This is the story of an awakening.

As more and more Bernie Sanders supporters formed and joined groups on Facebook and other social media platforms, many of us found friends along the way. We are all so very different – we come from different parts of the country, different spiritual backgrounds, different ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and even political views. We don’t always agree on everything. But there is one thing we all agree with – everyone deserves a fair chance.

We created groups, and those groups sometimes split and sometimes merged. As we realized that we could never ever go back to sitting idly by and accepting things as they were, we realized that our communities had become something much more than grassroots political campaigning. It became more than just Bernie Sanders’ activist army. It became a family.

This is the story of family.

There are still a lot of those groups on Facebook. There are still warring factions on Twitter. But it is starting to die down. Some of these groups, however, have taken steps to remain active voices in the progressive community. I hope that AMAV will continue to be one of them. But, this isn’t a story about AMAV, or what I hope it becomes.

This is the story of making a difference.

Before this progressive movement became such a consuming part of our lives, many people were resigned to take it. We didn’t think that there was anything that we could do. We saw the Occupy movement “make a fuss” and get ignored. We saw our jobs, savings, and property values stripped from us. We saw a corporate takeover of our country. Nobody was speaking out, and those who did were laughed at and told to grow up and get a real job.

Then came Bernie Sanders. And, while he said it was never about him but it was about us, he was the leader of our revolution. For a time. He was the one who convinced us that we COULD make a difference. If enough of us banded together, we COULD win. And I still believe that. With all of my heart.

But, I learned something today. I saw a single woman have compassion in her heart for a young boy and his family. I saw that woman bring the attention of a small group of people to a situation out of a young boy’s control. And I saw that group of people come together to make a difference. And, really, that is the true lesson of Bernie Sanders.

Yes, we need to fight back against a corrupt government and the corporate oligarchy. Yes, we need to make some drastic changes to our energy policies and our governing system. Yes, we need to fight for equality and justice for all people, regardless of gender, skin color, or sexual identification.

But the most important thing we have to fight is the apathy. For far too long, too many people have said “It’s not my problem”. It is everyone’s problem. And today was proof that it doesn’t take some Herculean effort on the part of one person to make a difference. Just a little effort on the parts of many will make a much bigger difference than any one person ever could.

This is a story of heroes. The kind we all can, and should, be.

Find a way to make this world a better place every day. Even if it’s just a small thing. Pick up a piece of garbage. Hand a sandwich to a homeless person. Smile at a stranger, even if you get a dirty look in return. Hold the door open for someone. Let someone merge in traffic. Take a walk. Read to a kid. You don’t have to be a super hero. Sometimes, what you think is the smallest thing can make all the difference in someone’s day, and bring more positivity into the world. Sometimes, you can be a hero without even knowing it.

A little help can go a very long way.

Javonte is that kind of hero. He is a hero to his family, because his kind heart and desire to help others brought some good will to his family. He is a hero to Lois and her daughter, because he cares and tries to help as best as he can. He is a hero to me, because I have learned something very important from him.

Lois is that kind of hero. She knows how important Javonte is to her daughter, and her empathy requires her to take action. She knows how much more Javonte’s family needs help than her family needs a bunch of gifts under the tree. She knows that helping that family is the right thing to do, and so do her children.

The anonymous donor who pledged to match up to $500 to help out Javonte’s family is that kind of hero. They did it without wanting any fanfare. They didn’t do it for a pat on the back. They did it because it was the right thing to do.

Every member of this community is that kind of hero – those who donated if they could, and those who helped spread the word if they couldn’t. Without that support, there wouldn’t have been anywhere near this kind of success.

This is the story of all of us.

And it is a good story. It can have a good ending, one that is far better than the ending we are heading towards. But it’s up to us. We are in this together, and that’s the only way we will get out of this – together. The decision is ours. Let’s make the right choice.


Richard Waite is the author of A Mostly Accurate View, and the producer and host of the AMAV podcast and YouTube channel.


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