After 46 years, eight children, thirteen grandchildren and two husbands, I finally was blessed with a passion that filled my soul, as if I had room for anything else. My mom raised me to be independent, married or not, she always taught us to stand for something or fall for everything. I was the oldest, so I took it in the most, literally. The problem was that it was always for someone else. Meaning I was a people pleaser, you know the one who can’t be happy without others being happy. I stood for everyone’s well being, never giving thought to my dreams, hopes or goals in life. It would all be fine, I thought, if everyone around me was ok.
At 46 years old, all that changed, but in a different way. When my mother mentioned to me that the kids in the neighborhood liked me, even respected me, and that I should do something with them. I immediately thought to myself, no, I can’t. Because I had one child left at home, she was thirteen and she would be gone to college at eighteen, I would be free or so I thought. For days after that I prayed about what my mom said, it then hit me. That’s what I loved to do anyway, help people. Well I always wanted people to be happy, well here was my chance. I just never thought it would make me happy too!
When I began to get involved with children from my neighborhood, something began to happen. I started to feel vibrant, useful, giving. My spirit was uplifted as the young people strolled into my apartment everyday. Relying on me to guide, teach, listen, love, care, nurture, and discipline them. As I began to listen to each one of their stories, I felt compelled to help, even if only to offer advice. The more they talked, the more needed I felt. Each day began to be an adventure; I would stay up nights thinking of ways to make their day better and more uplifting. I would be so excited knowing they were coming, then their friends started coming, kids I didn’t know.
The other kids were telling them about this “lady”, it dawned on me that “that” lady was me. Each day more and more would show up, “hey Ms. Diane”, they would say. The joy in my heart would fill up, just knowing they depended on me to be safe, to be cared for, it was an amazing feeling. My family began to notice and my neighbors began to notice all the kids hanging out at my house. Even some of my children began to question my decision to allow this to happen. My husband asked me a question with a concerned look “are you crazy”? We can’t take care of all these children. It didn’t help much either that I had sold the family television, his television. Well I couldn’t explain it to none of them, how I felt, why I felt this way, but I knew I couldn’t stop. In the meantime more kids were coming, so I moved all the furniture out of our dining room, bought used computers with the television money so the kids could study and do homework. It almost cost me another divorce; I promised my husband I wouldn’t touch anything else if he just stayed.
Then I noticed there were over fifty, yes 50 youth in my house and they were coming everyday of the week. Some came or called in the middle of the night or early in the morning. They were even coming to sit on my porch just to wait until I came out. Those that were getting thrown out of the house and needed a place to stay for a couple of days would sleep on my floor, my husband and I would wash their clothes, feed them, take them back and forth to school. Amazingly, when my family saw how serious I was and how happy I was, they began to pitch in. We bought shoes, coats, hats, scarves and in the blink of an eye, there were seventy-five. My husband and I moved everything out of a bedroom, solicited used music equipment and made it into a studio for them to make music. That was when he put his foot down “Diane we are not going any further, I need my bedroom”! I complied as long as he stayed. (smile)
Neighbors were not so nice at this point, saying things like “old lady in a shoe, got so many children she didn’t know what to do”. They called the police on me a couple of times, oh but it was something in me that wouldn’t let me stop and I knew what it was. The Young People! They really believed in me, and to prove it they tried hard to show me they could do it. They got back in school, got out of gangs, stopped fighting, were so happy when their grades started improving, became empowered, all because I opened my home. I was having the time of my life, they made me laugh, cry, think, create, feel validated, it was an awesome feeling and nothing was going to stop me at this point.
I took my newfound euphoria out into the community to share with others. Telling them about the kids in my home, asking for help and assistance for them. Again I was naïve, thinking everyone wanted to help. I was running day and night in between being with the youth. Everyday was an adventure; I spoke the same message everywhere I went. Soon it began to sink in, even the neighbors looked at me differently, some even offered their help. I was making progress, each year more and more people reached out to support my vision. After much exposure, press and 2,000 youth later, I can honestly say this is the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.
Certainly the “Power of I” is the power of us all. Collectively we change things, but individually we start the change. I’m glad I was one of the ones chosen to be apart of so many inspiring lives, to earn their trust and respect. I am fulfilled and leave you with this thought:
“Our day begins to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.