I’m a Rock Island girl. I’ve worked in big financial institutions in Chicago and San Francisco, but I was raised in Rock Island and attended Alleman High School and Augustana College. When it came time to raise my own children, I left Berkley, California and bought a house in the same neighborhood where I grew up. It’s a nice neighborhood. The homes are well-maintained and comfortable with beautiful flower boxes in the summertime, the backyards are big enough to accommodate a swing set or the occasional trampoline and there are always kids riding bikes and neighbors walking their dogs. Shame on me, but I didn’t even lock my doors during the day while I was at work. About a mile and a half away, there’s a different world. Not a flower box or trampoline in sight. The blight of poverty is everywhere: on the dilapidated houses, on the rusted cars up on blocks in the backyards, on the faces of the neighbors who are doing their best just to get through another day. And the children, oh the children. I’ve talked to them, I’ve eaten lunch at their school with them, I’ve mentored them. They dream of “getting out”: winning the lottery, being drafted by the NBA, becoming “rich and famous”.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t do anything to deserve the fact that I was born into a family that lived “on the hill”. I’m not special, I’m no better than the single moms with the sad faces who worry how they can afford groceries until the end of the month and still keep the lights on. It’s an accident of birth that I became part of a family that could pay Catholic school tuition, who didn’t have to walk a mile to the laundromat to provide me with clean clothes, and who could afford to provide me with opportunities so that I could grow up and find a satisfying, secure job. Because I have been so blessed, I have a responsibility to do my part to raise up as many people as I can. It’s my job to treat everyone I meet with dignity. Twice a week, I spend time with a little girl who hails from a family of 12 kids. Her house doesn’t look like mine. I’ve known her for over two years and I’ve never seen her in clean clothes. Her family operates under different principles than mine does. But none of that matters. She is bright and curious, loves Whitey’s bubblegum ice cream and when she smiles, her whole face lights up. She doesn’t want to be drafted by the WNBA, she wants to go to college and teach little kids how to read. It’s my mission to make sure she does exactly that.