Thursday, 22 November 2007

I am blessed. . .

I bought a new book yesterday:

Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II
I've always liked Chicken Soup stories,because those stories aren't fiction. They are REAL LIFE experiences. I devoured all 101 stories in one night (I know...ONE NIGHT?!!I'm a fast reader;can't help it) but one story stood out: Hero of the Hood by Paula McDonald.

Hero of the Hood

By all odds, Mike Powell should never have survived. Addiction, drug pushing, prison or early death is the most likely cards dealt to street kids growing up in the "jungle" of south central Los Angeles- a violent combat zone of drug wars, gang slaying, prostitution and crime. But Mike's young life had a special purpose. For eight years he braved terror and brutalization to keep his family of 7 kids together. Incredibly during that time no one ever discovered that the only real parent the family had was just another kid.

When Mike was born; his father Fonso was in prison for drug dealing. Mike's 15-year-old mother; Cheryl, dropped out of school to support the baby. "Without you my life could have been different" she later told Mike over and over. It was the guilty glue that would make Mike stick with her through the coming years of horror.

Fonso was released from prison when Mike was 4 but instead of security 6-foot 5, 300-pound Vietnam vet brought a new kind of fear into mike's life. Fonso had severe psychological problems and his discipline was harrowing. For minor infractions such as slamming a door he forced Mike to do push-ups for hours. If the little boy collapsed his father would beat him. So fanatical was Fonso 's insistence on school attendance that Cheryl had to hide Mike in a closet when he was sick.

Perhaps it was dark premonition that drove Fonso to toughen up his young son and teach himself reliance far beyond his years. Mike was barely 8 when his father was murdered in a run-in with drug dealers.

Overnight the protection and income Fonso had provided were gone. It was back to the street for 24 year old Cheryl who now had 3 kids. Mike, Raf;age 4, and Amber; 1 year. Life was bitterly hard and another baby was on the way.

It wasn't long before Cheryl brought home Marcel; a cocaine addict who terrorized the family even more than Fonso had. When Mike innocently questioned what Marcel had done with Cheryl's wages as a transit worker, Marcel broke the little boy's jaw so badly it had to be wired back in place.

Marcel soon got Cheryl hooked on cocaine and the two would disappear on drug binges at first leaving the children locked in a closet but eventually just leaving them alone for weeks at a time. Cheryl had convinced Mike that if anyone found out what was happening the children would be separated and sent to foster homes. Remembering his father's fierce admonitions to "be a man" the eight-year-old became consumed by the need to keep his family together no matter what.

To make sure no one suspected anything Mike began cleaning the apartment himself doing laundry by hand and keeping his sisters fed, diapered and immaculate. He scavenged junk shops for hair brushes, bottles and clothes whatever they could afford and covered up for his mothers absences with an endless litany of excuses. Cheryl and Marcel were soon burning through everything the family had in order to buy crack even money for rent and the children's food. When their money situations became desperate Mike quietly quit elementary school at 9 to support the family himself. He cleaned yards, unload trucks and stocked liquor stores, always working before dawn or late at night so the smaller ones wouldn't be alone while awake.

As Cheryl and Marcel's drug binges and absences became longer and more frequent their brief returns became more violent. Sinking deeper into addiction; Cheryl would simply would abandon Marcel when his drugs ran out and hook up with someone who was better supplied. A crazed Marcel would then rampage through the slum apartment torturing and terrorizing the children for information about where more money was hidden or where he could find their mother.

One night Marcel put Mike's 2-year-old sister in a plastic bag and held it closed. Without air the toddler's eyes were bulging and she was turning blue. "Where's your mother? " the addict screamed, Sobbing Mike and little 5 year old Raf threw themselves at Marcel again and again beating on his back with small ineffectual fists. In desperation Mike finally sank his teeth into Marcel's neck praying the savage tormentor would drop the plastic bag and pick on him instead. It worked. Marcel wheeled and threw Mike through the window cutting him with shattered glass and breaking his arm.

Cheryl's parent's;Mabel and Otis Bradley, loved their grandchildren deeply, but they worked long hours and lived a difficult multiple bus commute away and could see them only rarely. Sensing the family was struggling Mabel sent clothes and diapers never dreaming that Cheryl was selling the diapers, for drug money. Although Mabel's constant phone calls and unconditional love became Mike's only anchor of support he didn't dare tell her that anything was wrong. He feared his gentle Grandmother would have a heart attack if she learned the truth or worse a violent confrontation with Marcel.

The family was forced to move constantly sleeping in Movie Theaters, abandoned cars and even fresh crime scenes at times. Mike washed their clothes in public restrooms and cooked on a single burner hot plate. Eventually Cheryl and Marcel always caught up with them.

Despite the moves, Mike insisted the younger kids attend school, get good grades and be model citizens. To classmates, teachers and even their grandmother the children always seemed normal, well groomed and happy. No one could have imagined how they lived or that another child was raising them. Somehow Mike had managed to sort through the good intentions but brutal methods of his father and blend them with the loving example of his grandmother to form a unique value system. He loved his family deeply and in return the children loved, trusted and believed in him. "You don't have to end up on the street" he told them. " See what momma's like? Stay off drugs!" secretly he was terrified that his mother would one day O.D(overdose) in front of them.

Over the next few years Cheryl was repeatedly jailed for possession and sale of narcotics and other crimes and was sometimes gone for up to a year at a time. Out of jail she continued to have more children making the family's financial situation increasingly critical. Hard as Mike tried it was becoming impossible for him to care for 3 new babies and support a family of 7 kids at the same time. One Christmas there was only a can of corn and a box of macaroni and cheese for all of them to share. Their only toys for the past year had a single McDonald's happy meal figure for each child. For presents Mike had the children wrap the figurines in newspaper and exchange them. It was one of their better Christmases.

The younger teenager now lived in constant anxiety but still refused to fall into the easier world of drug dealing and crime. Instead he braved the dangerous streets late at night selling doctored macadamia nuts which to half-crazed addict looked like 30 dollars crack- cocaine "rocks". He knew he risked his life every time he took such chances but he felt he had few choices. In the nightly siege or gang and drug warfare; the odds were against him though. By age 15 mike had been shot 8 times.

Worse' his reserves of strength and hope were running dangerously low. For as long as he could remember he had live with relentless daily fears: Will we be able to eat today? Will we all be on the street tonight? Will Marcel show up tomorrow?

And after more than 40 moves it seemed they had finally hit rock bottom. " Home" was now the Frontier Hotel; a filthy dive on skid row where pimps and prostitutes stalked the halls and drug deals went down on the stairways. The kids had watched a murder in the lobby and Mike was now afraid to leave them alone or to sleep. For the few nights they had been there he had stayed up with a baseball bat to kill rats as they crawled under the door.

Sleep deprived and over whelmed by stress, Mike felt crushed by the responsibilities of his life. It was 2 am. His brother and sisters were huddled under a single blanket on the floor. Michelle, the youngest baby was crying but he had no food for her. The boy who had shouldered his secret burden for so many years suddenly lost hope.

Stumbling to the window in despair Mike stood at the edge steeling himself to jump. Silently asking his family to forgive him he closed his eyes and took a last deep breath. Just then a woman across the street spotted him and began screaming. Mike reeled back from the edge and fell into a corner, sobbing. For the rest of the night he rocked the hungry baby and prayed for help.

It came a few days later on the eve of Thanksgiving 1993 shortly before Mike's 16th birthday. A church outreach group had set up a sidewalk kitchen nearby to feed the hungry. Mike took the children there for free sandwiches. So impressed were the volunteers with him and the polite youngsters that they began asking gentle questions. A dam deep inside Mike finally broke and his story spilled out.

Within days the church group was at work trying to find the family permanent shelter but no single foster home could take all 7 children. Advised that the family would have to be separated "for their own good" Mike adamantly refused threatening to disappear back into the jungle with the kids. The only person he trusted to keep the family together was his grandmother. Reluctantly he finally told her of their life for the past 8 years.

Stunned and horrified Mabel Bradley immediately agreed to take the children but the Los Angeles county social welfare system balked. Mabel was 66, retired and the children's grandfather was diabetic. How could the Bradley possibly cope with 7 youngsters? But Mike knew better. He hid the children and refused to negotiate any alternative except his grandparents. Finally the social workers and courts agreed and an ecstatic Mabel and Otis Bradley were granted permanent custody of the children. Somehow every child had survived unscathed. Nothing short of miracles it seemed. Mike unfathomable strength and love had kept them together.

Mabel has since returned to work and now willingly commutes more than 100 miles away, while Otis cares for the children. Mike works, as many jobs as he can to help support the family but smart willing and honest as he is only minimum wage jobs are available. More than anyone he realizes the value of an education and is working on his GED.

His dream is to someday start a small company that can simultaneously employ the counsel street kids like himself who are without the traditional education. And skills to make it in a normal work world but who don't want to be forced back to street life because they can't find work.

Mike also dedicated to reaching other inner city kids through his music. A talented singer and songwriter, he wrote inspirational rap with his own unique message of hope. Having seen so many kids die in his young life he wants desperately to reach those who might live. "Surviving is against the odds but it happens and we have to get that message out. If a thousand people hear me and 2 kids don't get shot, don't deal, don't die then we've done something."

There is little time to sing right now though for Mike and his family are still struggling themselves. But Raf, Amber and Chloe are now stepping proudly into Mikes' big shoes to do their part at home. They are the 3 oldest street babies he raised and taught to live with courage and hope.

The remember well all of Mike's words, whispered fiercely to them over and over during the bad times, during the many moves when each time they had to leave every thing behind: " Whatever you grateful for it! Even if you've got nothing. Be grateful you're alive! Believe in yourself. Nobody is stopping you. Have a goal. Survive!"

Mike Powell will have his company for street kids someday. And there will be time later for the rest of his dreams too. Mike is, after all only Nineteen.

Paula McDonald


This story is REAL. It was originally a feature article in the Readers' Digest Magazine in 1997.You can see for yourself in this link:

I'll make a confession: I was crying at the end of the story. A reminder of how much I have. This is a why I like these type of stories. They are inspirational and they make us look at something more than only our own world: other people. I did a Google search on Mike Powell and I managed to find out this fact:(extract from the link above)

Mike Powell won the America’s Award in 1998, a national award known as “The Nobel Prize for Goodness.” No one could have deserved it more.

I am truly blessed...

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