Monday, June 8, 2009

Graduating and Growing Up

James with his mom and diploma

"I'm James' mom."
I hesitated. I mentally went through all the names of kids on the team. No James. Noticing my confusion, James' mom said, "Paco."
"Oh, Paco! Yeah, he's great. We're so glad he's on the team."
That was January of 2001. It was my first year coaching at DinoMights. All the kids were new to me, but I thought that by now I knew all their names. As it turned out, I'd gone two months coaching the team before I found out that Paco's real name was James. And, as it turned out James/Paco and I got to know each other pretty well since then.

James was in fourth grade when I met him, just a young boy. That summer at KAA I remember playing basketball with him during free time. We played on the 7 foot hoop. I suppose it was more his size then. During that camp, James heard the good news about Jesus and believed it.
He has always been one of those kids that made me remember why I was doing this job; why DinoMights was a good thing; most of all why caring about people is a good thing. During his sixth and seventh grade years he was part of a group of three boys that got together with me weekly to have fun and learn Bible Stories. We alternated between acting out the stories like a play and talking about the stories over smoothies from Sola Squeeze. He was a Willie O'Ree All-Star as a seventh grader. He read scripture at my wedding as an eighth grader.

In high school, James excelled at Football. He was a top 10 wide receiver in the State of Minnesota last year and featured in the Star Tribune. He was also the captain of his team. When he was elected Homecoming King all the kids were calling him "King James." He humbly replied, "Jesus is the real king."

James with his dedicated tutor, Leah

Last night was James graduation. At first I didn't think I could make it, but Kari reminded me of something that James' mom said a year ago. She said, "I want you all [coaches, tutors, etc.] to be at James' graduation. You've all been a part of the family that helped me raise my son."

How could I ever miss this?

He walked in with his class looking more like a young man than the fourth grade boy whose name I didn't know, with the biggest ear to ear grin. When they announced his name, it was by far the loudest cheer of the evening, as friends and family all celebrated the monumental moment.

I cited James Walsh of the Star Tribune last week who said in June 2007 that 58% of African Americans do not graduate from high school in Minnesota. The figures are even more grim for African American Men like James. Graduation from high school really is a big deal. The difference this event will make in the future of a young man like James is enormous.

Today, I got to speak to James on the phone. I asked him how it felt to cross the stage. He said, "I felt pretty grown up."

Closed Circuit to James: You will have more growing up to do. But I agree, I think you've grown up, and I was very honored to be a part of that process.

Congratulations Paco!!!

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