I work as an attorney for a free Legal Services Clinic in East St Louis, Illinois. East St. Louis is a third world country in our first world nation. East St. Louis personifies the injustice of an ever widening wealth gap that renders an entire group of people disposable. People suffer from food insufficiency; the School Board is under a form of conservatorship due to financial discrepancies and poor performance; and evictions and illegal lock outs are imposed at the whims of unscrupulous slum lords. Options are few. For most young people here, the opportunity for work lies somewhere between the multiple strip joints and the wholesale drug dealing at the corner gas stations. It is a truly forsaken place. I look around and I wonder, if the rest of the nation knew about us, would they still sleep at night?
Sometimes, when the disparity and injustice seems overwhelming, I have asked Jesus what difference I might make to His beloved Poor in these horrific circumstances. I was experiencing one of those moments when Stacey and little CJ resurfaced in my life. Stacey is a single mother of 3 and she would give her eye teeth to be as Poor as a church mouse. I have represented her before. She explained to me that she had been unable to pay her rent for the past 6 months and she was getting evicted. Upon hearing the details of her case, I knew she had a technical defense but it would only buy her a little time. She was going to be evicted and she needed an exit strategy. Loss of shelter in the Illinois winter can be a death knell to the family unit. Single mothers, and that is all I know, will lose their children to DCFS if they become homeless. Since it was 20 degrees outside, shelters had been full. With God’s grace, we found a shelter in the next town over that would accept her if she would come within 48 hours. She had no car so I offered to drive her and her 6 year old son CJ. The 16 year old would come after school and her 18 year old had moved out with her SSI check when the eviction notice came.
Stacey, myself and CJ arrived at the Shelter just after lunch. They would not process Stacey until she obtained verification of a clean criminal background check from the local Police Dept. So we drove to the Police Department. CJ and I stayed in the car while Stephanie went inside. CJ has dark brown bangs and shoulder length hair that he refuses to allow his mom to cut. He wears round wire rimmed glasses and has chapped lips because he incessantly licks his lips and the area around his mouth. Except for the licking thing, he is adorable. CJ and I began to chat while we waited. As we talked, we heard a siren. He asked me, “Is that the cops?” He could not see beyond the booster seat side padding. I smiled at his use of the word ‘cops’ and responded that it had been a fire truck. He said, “Oh, I have a toy fire truck. I used to have 2.” I inquired, “Oh? What happened to the other one?” He looked at me, kinda rotated his chin sideways, as if he were thinking about the best way to explain the situation to this possibly uniformed nun. He started slowly, “Do you know about black kids and white kids ?” I denied knowing about them. “Well…..okay…” he sucked in some air and continued to explain, “If there is a poor kid…umm…I mean , if you have 2 of something and the other kid doesn’t have any, …and he wants one, you have to give him one of yours. “ He paused for a moment and then added, “Even if you don’t wanna, you just do it. …..I didn’t want to give my truck away but it’s what you do.” Lent had started a week ago but I was living Christmas. I looked in my back seat and saw Baby Jesus in a booster seat, holding a Darth Vader action figure. He had stopped speaking but his face and shoulder shrug said “Do you get it?”
In my head, I heard, ”Mary Ellen I am your Father” Then, “No one is too Poor to give to another.” (JP2)
Not even me.
If I have two minutes, may I give one to someone in need.
If I have two dollars, may I give one to someone without.
Since I have two lives, the “here” and the “hereafter”; let me give this one to You.
Even when if I don’t want to give, it’s just what I am called to do.I get it.