Over the past few weeks, I've been reading John M. Dirks Spirituality of Work: The New Opiate of a Postmodern Search for Meaning in Life. After reading this important piece of literature, I began reflecting on my own spirituality. As a Methodist minister and devout Christian, this reading helped me to unpack my spirituality in ways that I haven't done before.
I started to take inventory of the different managerial capacities I've served in as a young entrepreneur over the past 10 years. Having worked as a former assistant lobbyist, community organizer, legislative analyst, and legislative assistant, I begin to think about the impact and small victories that I was able to make to improve the lives of so many people who have been pushed to the margins by society. I thought about the many concepts, ideas, and proposals my colleagues and I were able to introduce and recommend to our senior partners, in an attempt to make a difference in the public square.
What I discovered doing this type of work, (especially the work I did with the department of corrections), is that while I was able to bring a spiritual and humanitarian perspective to the work I did, for the most part, I was absolutely powerless. Powerless in a sense that I could not reverse centuries of discriminatory practices, which continuously ensnare and sweep hundreds of thousands of black and brown men and women into the US prison system even in the 21st century.
It was painstaking for me to see men who look like me sit in wire cages only to be treated like animals. I often witnessed correction officers turn a blind eye to the complaints inmates would make against other officers. I remember once being a bystander to a conversation where one correction officers said to the other, "we are a fraternity, we look out for one another."
Hearing this, was almost like they had surreptitiously adopted a culture of don't ask, don't tell. It was at this moment that I knew that my life needed to take a different turn. My eyes became even more illumined and I begin to think that perhaps victimization happens behind the sorrowful walls of prison. However, because these individuals are behind the invisible institution, the general public rarely ever learn of their stories, and even when the public is made aware, their grievances are seldom taken seriously enough for a full-fledged investigation to occur.
Even though, I worked in the public sector for a number of years, it was one incident in particular that put fire in my belly to devote my entire life to public service. A young man by the name of Enrique expressed to me that he had been wrongfully convicted, and while behind bars, he was viciously assaulted. His story pulled at my heart-string. I couldn't sit idle as if he had not poured his heart out to me. I spent nearly two years mentoring him and offering him pastoral counseling. Certainly this was indeed a long journey, but good ultimately came from it. Three years later, Enrique is enrolled in college and going into his final year, he has a good paying job, and serves as a consummate mentor par excellence to scores of young men in his community.
I believe that none of us have gotten to where we are solely on our own, but somebody invested in us, saw our potential, and gave us a chance to live into our full potential. Enrique's life serves as an example that human flourishing and wholeness is indeed possible.
Today, Enrique and I have partnered with more than a dozen churches in major US cities to encourage young people to not adopt the labels others have placed on them. We have designed a pilot program to educate those (namely African American and Latino males) between the ages of 18-35 on how to respond to police brutality among other forms of injustice. We have effectively created a reentry program that is currently being reviewed by several municipalities around the country for possible adoption.http://www.herrongaston.com/home.html
As I continue to make meaning of my vocation and call to the ministry, I am reminded to think about something Enrique said to me after I helped him to get his life back on track. He said, "We cannot be content as people of God until every prisoner is seen and regarded as a human being, and until we are able to open our homes and allow them to sit at our dining tables with us."
Admittedly, I am still processing and digesting Enrique's words, and working towards moving closer to his challenge as I continue to think through what human wholeness and flourishing truly calls for. And I encourage you to journey with me as we think together on how to create a more compassionate and humanitarian society.