When I walked into the Jersey City office of Big Brothers/Big Sisters in the Spring of ’04, I had no idea what to expect. I had tossed around the idea of becoming a Big Brother ever since my college roommate did it a few years after we left the ‘cuse, but I kept rationalizing my decision not to due to me having a hard enough time getting my own shit straight in my 20’s.
That was where I was dead wrong; for the longest time, I thought it all was about me.
Wendy, the director of the office, gave me a form with an inordinate amount of personal questions for a background check. After I completed the paperwork and she disclosed the rules of the Big Brother/Little Brother relationship, she then asked me the most obvious question, one which I had never even considered.
What type of kid are you looking to match up with?
Not knowing what to say, I quickly blurted back that I didn’t have any preferences, I mean, what kind of person would I be to shop for a specific type of little brother? Wendy expertly paused and explained that there were kids as young as 8 and as old as 16 looking for a Big Brother, but the older they got, the harder it was to place them. “As a matter of fact” I told her “the older the better.” I was looking for a brother, not a son. My answer seemed to please her, as she quickly dipped into her paperwork, searching for a case file. After a few minutes of licking fingers and opening dusty file cabinets in her ceiling fan cooled office, Wendy told me to come back in a few days. She thought she had found a potential match.
When I returned for my next appointment, I passed Branden and his mother, Felicia, sitting patiently in the hallway. Before I knew it, Branden — a 14 year old kid from across the tracks — and myself were in the midst of documenting our own shared rules of our relationship, the most important being that there was to be no lying. This was real. This was surreal. I had another little brother in my life.
Here’s the thing… and it may be the most used cliche’ of all, but it’s the most truthful statement I think I’ll ever make; Branden has taught me more about myself than any girlfriend or friend I’ve ever had. Sure, I’ve exposed him to new experiences; like Sushi dinners downtown or a Mos Def concert in Central Park, even a late-night showing of Sin City (sorry, Felicia). I tried to keep him focused when focus was needed and a kid the rest of the time. I know I’ve made a difference in his life, but I can’t even begin to express how much he’s changed mine. Not my perspective on life mind you, but my life.
When I was growing up as a son to teachers, living well above our means in a wealthy part of the ‘burbs of Montclair, NJ, I thought I was less off because the kids on my block had a new pair of Jams for each day of the week, while I had to cycle through mine every three days. After seeing Branden watch his own back, both in school and out, spending his afternoons at his grandmother’s house because it wasn’t safe for him to go outside and hang out with his friends, well, life gets real. The kid has more street smarts in his first 16 years on this planet than I’ve garnered in my 35.
As for how he changed my life, just take a look at the thin postings from 2004 on this blog and take a guess how career-focused I was; how consumed I had become about bettering myself. I’m now volunteering my time, efforts and money with numerous causes as a direct result of our relationship.
Back in July, I was forced to make one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I decided to leave Jersey City and move to Greensboro, NC. Felicia, Branden’s mother, understood what was happening; I had just lost my job and met someone down south, so I needed to step; but Branden and I had only recently hit our stride, and he was in JC, still a few years away from the end point of the commitment I had made to him through Big Brothers. Yet, here I am, posting away from my village townhouse apartment, smack dab in the middle of the bible belt.
Words can’t express how tough that decision was.
But here’s the thing… Branden and I don’t relate to one another through the lens of the Big Brother program anymore; we haven’t since the first time we hung out. We’ve shared enough special moments together that we consider ourselves brothers, for real.
A few weeks ago, Big B promised me that for my birthday, he was going to drop lyrics on his blog, Prestylin’, and dedicate his flow to me. Tonight, during my nightly ritual of Bloglines info-digestion, there it was, the Prestylin’ feed was black and bold, reaching out for my eyes to behold.
What can I say? I miss ya’, kid. Keep it real up there, mind your mom and keep on doing your thing in school. I’ll be back up there in the New Year, kicking your butt in Madden quicker than you can say “That’s dope.” (haha)
To my friends and fellow web travelers, if you have a moment, stop on by and show Big B some love. Not only is he keeping it real, but he’s keeping it right.