Chery, Ben and Seth
Babies are the ultimate sign of hope. Their very existence demonstrates that 2 people love each other enough to create a life that reflects that love.
That's the theory, and sometimes it is true, or sometimes it's a variation of the above, or sometimes, well, let's not go there.
Recently Laura and I visited with Chery and Ben, known to audiences across the land because of their role in My Own Four Walls, the HEAR US documentary series released last year. They've agreed to participate in our new documentary, On the Edge, a look at families during and after homelessness.
Chery and Ben now live in a $375 a month abode in Harrisburg, in an abandoned neighborhood too awful to call a slum.
Recently they added a member of their household. Seth, now a precious 3-month-old baby, clamors for attention and gets a healthy dose of it from his 2 loving parents.
Their story is filled with incredible and predictable happenings, some good, some tough. Seth is the good part. He's got a promising start if you don't look out the window to the neighborhood that surrounds their home like a dark, stormy cloud.
Garbage is piled in the streets; evidently this area is not on the regular trash pick-up route. Boarded up windows and doors are the norm, with graffiti covering every spot within reach. Police presence is limited to an occasional squad car meandering through. Thumping bass from passing cars vibrates what's left of this young couple's plastic-covered windows. Ben and Chery talk about the regular echo of gunshots, police sirens, and bloody fights outside right below their apartment. Ben calls the police when he sees something but it seems like emptying the ocean with a sand pail.
Stoop-sitters decorate the otherwise bleak streets, reminders that humans still occupy this forgotten chunk of the city.
Lest readers think that this city is a mere speck on the nation's vast landscape, it's not. Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania, with a dwindling population of approximately 47,000. Laws get made here. Rich and famous people come here. Barack Obama was here for a rally this past Saturday night on the steps of the picturesque Capitol.
Just blocks from this government center, Chery, Ben and Seth hunker down in their apartment, desperately wanting a way out. Ben's job with a student loan company will likely be yanked from his capable hands because the company is losing money, a side effect of the economic destruction plaguing this country. Chery decries the limits of poverty that trap them in a hopeless situation that requires money and some good fortune coming their way. Both prioritize family and wrap their loving arms around their symbol of HOPE.
Seems to me that this situation challenges Obama's Audacity of Hope. Chery and Ben had the audacity to hope that this precious life they brought into the world would have opportunities to thrive. But deep in their hearts they are hoping to survive. How many young parents like Chery and Ben are out there, limited by income and circumstances, filled with hope, and looking out the window at the gloom of the ghetto? Who and what will it take to change this reality? Who is willing to walk with these courageous young people? Or will we ignore them like the City of Harrisburg has ignored the trash pick-up?