Every day four children in America are killed by abuse orneglect. More than 750,000 children areabused or neglected each year. Even whenchildren survive or after physical scars heal, the emotional damage left by childabuse and neglect can last a lifetime just as the post traumatic stress left bygun violence leaves deep scars in countless children.
Joseph Miles has essentially been on his own since he was 13years old -- the year his mother tried to kill him. Until then, he would say, he cried forlove. After that he gave up on hoping ever to find it. Today Joseph is in his forties and has beenincarcerated since he was 28. When hecame to prison he couldn’t read or write. It was only recently that Josephrealized he missed out on something crucial besides love in earlychildhood: he didn’t even know he shouldhave had dreams until it was much too late. Listen to Joseph’s words:
Inever had dreams as a child, a teenager, or as a young adult. Until 2010, I had never sat in a room andheard people talk about their dreams for the future.
Idid not come from a loving, nurturing family. ‘Motherf***er, you little ugly mother***er.’ I could go on telling you how I was spoken toas a child but the words will remain the same.
Therewas no one in my life who could have talked to me about dreaming about myfuture. As I got older, my inner painsturned to anger and that anger turned to rage.
In2006, I got serious about education and just before I got my GED in 2008, Istarted dreaming about my future -- at the age of 41. That was the first time I had ever had adream about my future.
In2010, I was part of an undergraduate Inside Out college class ... This classhad seven young students from Vanderbilt University, two from American BaptistCollege (an African American college), and ten inmates. We referred to ourselves as insiders andoutsiders.
Thisday our opening circle was to tell the class what you dreamed of being when yougrew up. The first person spoke and,always going to the left, the next person spoke, and so on. It got to me and I had to tell the class thatI never had a dream of becoming anything in my life. My childhood was spent wanting my parents tolove me, crying because I was hungry, or crying because one of them had hurt meand my feelings. At the age of 13 mymother tried to beat me to death. Thoseyears were spent learning how to fight so I would never have to endure anotherbeating like that by anyone.
Dream? I could not dream; my pain had turned toanger, and in my twenties that anger turned to rage. I could not dream because I chaseddeath. Knowing what I know today, theonly reason I did not die is because God would not let death take me.
Thatclass was the first time in my life I had ever been around people talking aboutwhat they dreamed would happen for them in life. What they wanted to do when they were donewith school. I lived each day of life surviving. Dream? How could a human being like me dream when no one ever trained me how touse my mind to think? I was so impressedwith these young people from the outside and the dreams they had for theirfuture.
Eventhough I had that first dream in 2008, I like to think these young people gaveme permission to dream. After our classwas over that night and the outsiders were gone, I lay in that cell and went tothat place I always tried to stay away from since being introduced toeducation: the place of what if. What if someone would have helped me witheducation when I was young? What if Iwould have known how to think and dream? What if I could have experienced the love that was so obvious in thoseyoung people’s conversation? The lovefrom family and friends that allowed them to dream. What if I had a dream? ‘What if’ is a painful place to be!
Today,in 2013, at the age of 45, I dream. Idream of telling young people about the dreams I never had and why it’simportant for them to dream. Andhopefully I can keep them away from that place called ‘what if.’
TodayI do wish someone would have taught that child, that teenager, that young manin his twenties to dream. Whoknows? Maybe my life would have beendifferent.
Dreams! So important for the future of ourchildren. I know this from experience.Now I dream.
Howmany millions of children who were hurt or neglected themselves grow uphopeless, hate-filled, and continue the cycle of hurting others? No child deserves to grow up feeling hatedand abandoned instead of safe, cared for, and loved. And all children deserve to be allowed andencouraged to dream by the adults around them in their homes, schools, andcommunities. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the great president of Morehouse College andmentor to me and thousands of Black college students, told us:
It must be
borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn’t lie in not reaching your
goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal
to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die
with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture
your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars,
but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.
Everychild needs a dream. Dr. King had a dream and our nation has a dream we must continueto struggle to honor for every child and adult in America during this monthdedicated to preventing child abuse and every month going forth.