Some years ago, I was in Florida attending a conference with three of my friends. We needed to get from our hotel to the location of the meeting, but this was before GPS and the map that we’d printed at the hotel failed us. We were lost in the middle of downtown Orlando and there was no place to easily stop for directions. I told my friends that there was no need to worry. I took out my cell phone and called my father. They thought this was strange. My father wasn’t with us – he was at home in Philadelphia. But I knew that he’d be able to help.
My father asked for the intersection that I was currently sitting at and I told him the cross streets. He paused for a moment and asked if I saw a newsstand at the corner. My friends and I responded yes in respectful shock. He told me that as long as I saw the newsstand on the right and the McDonalds on the left that I could drive for about two minutes, make two turns and I would be at my destination. We arrived minutes later.
As we were parking to go inside for the meeting, one of my friends asked how it was possible that my father knew exactly what were needed to do in Florida when he was 1,000 miles away and hadn’t been to Orlando in years. I smiled as I explained that my father was so well-traveled that he was like a living map – the perfect person to ask about where you were going because of all of the places that he’d already been.
My greatest concern for my Scholars is their apparent misunderstanding of who they need to ask for direction when they are uncertain where to turn. I watch my students ask school personnel for advice because they claim that their parents just don’t understand. I look as they attend stage crew meetings at school instead of coming to A Better Chance workshops because they just don’t have the time to participate in the program. They choose friends instead of family members. They choose Instagram and Snapchat over real human connections. And the grave danger is that often these trusted confidantes can’t give advice on what do next because they are advising on journeys that they’ve never taken personally.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t those who will cheer you along life’s journey who have a different context than yours. Opposites do indeed attract and you will have friends who will bring diverse perspectives and new ideas. But there will be times in life when you, riding along with your peers, need direction and you realize that no one who is traveling closely with you knows what to do. Make sure that you have a teacher, a coach, a pastor, a parent…or Martina and me…to help you set the right course. We aren’t better people or smarter people. We are just people who have been there before. We know the landmarks. And we want to help you get safely to your destination.
We are living in a time with increasing uncertainty. When an officer pulls you over, he could be offering assistance or the cause for your alarm. Teachers might support your success or doubt that you have the ability to achieve. Family members might rush to your aid or rush out of your life. And let’s not even talk about how our current administration makes us nervous to watch the news or check our Twitter accounts each day. In the midst of these shaky times, you still have a destination to reach. You are meant to be the captain of the team, the leader of the student government, the person who graduates at the top of the class and goes on to the college of your dreams. You were born for this.
But if you get lost or misguided along the way, remember those who love you dearest and best. And always keep my number on file. I’m not Milton, my dear father, by a long stretch, but we can always find the path together.