Angel joined the Young Men’s Program at Ready, Willing & Able after a lifetime of hardships. In his speech, delivered at The Doe Fund’s 30th Anniversary Gala, he spoke of embracing the best parts of himself and how the Young Men’s Program helped him leave the rest– and the past– behind.
No one wants to admit they’ve been hurt by other people.
But the truth is, whether you talk about it or not, it happened. And every time you get hurt— it dims your vision. If it happens enough, you go completely blind. Not literally of course. But blind to who you are, when you look in the mirror; to the choices you have…blind to what you can be.
Children’s Services took me and my two sisters when I was three years old. My father was incarcerated for drugs and my mom just couldn’t handle it anymore. So we went away.
They kept us together at the first foster home. Our new mom’s name was Therese.
Therese made sure that when we went out, we looked like the perfect family. But at home, she maintained her image through fear and violence. She screamed at us. She threatened us. And she hit me and my sisters, every day.
We were there for five years.
It ended one night, when her boyfriend went into my sister’s room and tried to touch her. I was eight years old, and I still remember the rage inside me.
After that, I was on my own. Children’s Services moved us out of Therese’s house, but they said they couldn’t keep us together.
They moved me from house to house…every time the foster parents would say they didn’t want me. I was too angry. Too difficult. Too much trouble.
And, as a kid, when you hear something enough, you start to believe it.
At the last house they put me in, a member of the foster family tried to assault me in the shower. I was nine.
All of my rage came out at once. I hit him over and over again. The next morning, I was on my way to a reform school upstate. I had run out of foster homes. The social worker said it was the only option left for me.
As it turns out, that school was the best thing for me. I did well there, with the structure. I got good grades. I learned to speak properly, to write. I had friends who cared about me. For the first time in my life, there were adults around who I trusted.
When I was thirteen, my mother regained custody of me and my two sisters. The school told me I was going home.
As soon as I got back, the trouble started again. Everything was chaos: while my sisters and I were away, my mom had three more kids with our father. She was using drugs. He was an alcoholic.
I stayed out as much as I could to escape it. But there was trouble outside, too. Everything I learned upstate made me a target in the neighborhood: the way I talked, the way I acted, the way I dressed.
So I tried to fit in. That meant joining up with the gang on the block. Fighting their fights. Selling their drugs. Moving their guns.
At first, my mom was upset; but she had her own addictions. So as long as I brought her the money she needed, that was good enough.
Every once in awhile, the cops would come through the neighborhood. They’d round up all the kids, like animals, and put us in a cage for a few days. Then they’d kick us back onto the block and we’d start all over again.
When I was 17, a friend got murdered for his sneakers. Another was shot in the head and died. In the middle of the afternoon one day, my little brother took two bullets in the back. In one fight, I got stabbed. In another, shot.
My mom’s problems with drugs got worse. My father was gone again. I couldn’t bring home enough money for her habits. She kicked me out and I was homeless.
I was twenty five years old, sitting on a cot at the Bedford-Atlantic city shelter. I was lonely. And I was angry. Why was I stuck in a hell-hole, watching all these people dying…when my life was just supposed to be starting?
I had become what everyone told me I was: Nobody.
Then came The Doe Fund.
I heard about Ready, Willing & Able in the shelter. A lot of people said, forget about it…it’s too good to be true. A few had tried it and dropped out. “It’s too hard,” they said.
But something inside me was ready. I wanted a challenge. I wanted a life. I thought about that school upstate— how happy I was, when someone cared enough to challenge me.
So I joined the Young Men’s Program. On my first day, one of my teachers told me: “This is the kind of program where you’re either going to do it, or you’re not.” I told her I had already decided. And she believed me.
That was all it took. For the first time since I was nine, there were people who believed in me. And it changed my life.
Nobody made fun of me. Nobody wanted to fight me. I became a part of something good, something bigger than myself. And by being part of something good, I found goodness in myself.
My vision came back.
Day by day, at work and in class, all the layers of nonsense and noise— that I was trouble, that I was BAD— fell away. I got paid to go to work, because I did a good job. I succeeded in class, because I studied hard. I got hired to work in the computer lab, because people trusted me.
I realized that all I needed was an opportunity to be more than where I came from; more than the violence we endured growing up; more than a thug, or a junkie, or a homeless kid.
I’m standing here tonight on the other side of that opportunity. The days ahead are bright. My vision is clear. And I need to take this gift tonight of being here with you to say something very important:
To the teachers, case managers, to my fellow trainees. Thank you to George and Harriet for creating this program. And thank you to everyone here tonight who made it possible for me to have this opportunity.
One day, I’ll have my own family. And I’ll be the father to them that I didn’t have. And they won’t grow up afraid. And I’ll make sure that they hear, every day, how important they are and how much goodness is inside of them. And they’ll see it, every time they look in the mirror.
They’re going to have all of that, because of what I got here.
Thank you very much. Have a wonderful evening.