Joseph Sabino Mistick: Tough kids have great potential
There may be worse things for a kid than being homeless, but there are not too many. Too often, homelessness can kill the ambition and hope of any kid. Every grownup knows that the starting point for a productive life is a safe place to rest, away from chaos, at least for a few hours a day.
Last week, in New York City, more than 100 homeless teenagers graduated from high school and many are headed for college. These children woke up every morning in homeless shelters, gathered themselves for the challenges of the day, gave their best in their classes and returned to the shelters at night.
Sometimes they were bullied at school, since kids with a little bit more are often cruel to those who have a whole lot less. They kept their heads down and tried to make it through the halls without attracting attention. And at the end of the school day, they found some nook, maybe even made a hiding place for themselves, where they could focus and do their homework and prepare.
As New York Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio said, “The strength and resilience of these young people is inspiring. And it is this same strength and resilience that has prepared them for anything and will propel them forward as they join our next generation of future leaders.”
At the special send-off for these recent graduates by the Department of Homeless Services, they were given laptops, duffle bags and a college starter kit.
It doesn’t take that much to inspire these kids to succeed. A slight crack of light on an otherwise dark horizon is a start. Add caring teachers and counselors, and even a family that might be homeless but not without love, and they can make it work.
It all makes you wonder how we arrived at a national policy that warehouses homeless kids, separating them from those who love them and denying them the basic essentials of life and even a glimpse of that crack of light.
In June, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would no longer pay for English classes and other education programs for the children who are being detained at our border. With Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support, enough Democrats voted for an imperfect Republican Senate bill to provide some emergency funds, but we still have a very long way to go.
Our national policy is to see the kids we have detained at our border as a burden. Instead, we should see them as a resource, an opportunity, the stuff that good citizens and great Americans are made of. And we should invest in them, not waste their talent.
In “A Bronx Tale,” the 1993 Chazz Palminteri film about Italian-American kids struggling to find their way in a tough neighborhood in the 1960s, a young father tells his son, “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”
That is still true. And just as the smart money will be on those homeless kids from New York, we should be betting on the kids we have detained at the border, too.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].