A few weeks ago my wife, 12-year-old son and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend a family wedding. My wife recommended we go a few days early to show our son the different sites and memorials, so that's what we did.
Our first night there we went out to dinner with a relative, and as we walked back to our place it started to rain, but our son asked if we could go see the Lincoln Memorial anyway. As exhausted as we all were, we took a taxi there, and I was glad we did. Seeing the Lincoln Memorial, reading the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural speech, all lit up at night, was very moving. We then walked over, in the dark and in a light rain, to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, also moving in its own way.
We then pulled out a map of the city we had and noticed that not far away was the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. We walked in that direction and shortly came upon the recently-installed statue of Dr. King, surrounded by a number of his statements chiseled into stone.
An incredible sight, and my mind immediately shot back to 20 years earlier, to a teenage boy I knew named Nafari. I was director of a residential treatment center for teenagers who were in foster care and did not have a home where they could live. Nafari was one of them. He called himself Nafi and asked us all to do the same, which we obliged. He was 15, African-American, and had grown up in a low-income section of New York City. I can't remember his family situation, but it was probably like most of the youth at our residence: parents in prison or addicted or missing.
Standing at the Memorial, I thought of Nafi because every year on Martin Luther King Day we made a special effort to celebrate the holiday, and one year the person who ran the house where Nafi lived had asked each young man to fill out a sheet on which was a picture of Dr. King, with this sentence: "I have a dream that:_____________." The assignment was for each of them to write in what his dream was.
They were tacked up on a wall, and I started reading them and then came to Nafi's. "I have a dream that: I will be more than a street person."
It stopped me in my tracks when I read that, and it still affects me all these years later. Nafi's dream, that he not end up living on the street, was to me incredibly sad and very telling. I have thought many times about what I might have written as a teenager in completing that sentence, and what my peers might have written. "I have a dream that....I will be an engineer...a doctor....a lawyer....successful....a good parent....a sports star....own my own business....rich....married...." But for Nafi, his dream was that he not end up living on the street. And he likely wrote that because he grew up in a neighborhood where he saw many people in that exact condition. His greatest aspiration was that he not end up like them.
It's 20 years later and I have no idea how Nafi fared after leaving our program, what he is doing now or if his dream came true. I truly hope it did, and that he has a good life, a happy life. He was a nice young man and deserved that.
We left the Memorial, walked over to see the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and then took a taxi back to where we were staying. Before going to bed I decided to quickly check the news on my I-phone.
And I learned that while we had been at the Martin Luther King, Jr, Memorial, and I was thinking about Nafi, nine African Americans had been shot and killed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.