The Kitchen Light

The thief cometh not,
but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy:
I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly.

          — John 10:10


He is one of the most prominent people in Omaha. He is our county treasurer. Before that, he was our deputy chief of police. Recently, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. He was attempting to become the first person of color to represent Nebraska in Washington, D.C.


He lost, but he did very well. His supporters hope he’ll try again one day.


He is a Democrat, but he has many conservative positions: he wants to cut government spending and ensure that disadvantaged kids have access to quality curriculum. So he’s on the same page as the vast majority of Americans of any political persuasion.


He is one of those scholarly people with an eye toward horse sense. He’s a strongly Christian, promise-keeping husband with two young adult daughters. He’s a people-builder who exhorts you to work for what you get, and work hard.


He leads by example. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and criminal justice, and a master’s degree in urban studies. He’s licensed as a minister and is an associate minister at a local church. He has taught public administration on the college level, has chaired or participated in all kinds of civic boards and groups, served on the school board, coached basketball and track, and has won almost every award they give out.


He was lucky enough to have been mentored by two adults when he worked his way through school with a job in the stockroom at Sears. These two adults encouraged him to think about a career in the police department. They pestered him to apply, ‘til he finally did, “just to get them off my back.”


He went on to a 24-year career in the police department, with experience on the street. He later applied his management training in charge of the police budget, the fleet and facilities, the detention unit, crime lab, and much more.


Wow! Impressive, eh?


But here’s the thing:


He grew up poor. Dirt poor.


His family moved around a lot, but he spent many of his growing-up years in “the projects.”


Think of it: the man who is responsible for managing $1.7 billion worth of property taxes flowing into our county treasurer’s office grew up in the most disadvantaged part of town.


Ah! But was he really disadvantaged?


He says his parents insisted that he and his younger brother and sister do their homework every night in the sitting room off their kitchen. No buts about it. Absolutely! Without fail!


They knew that getting a good education was their children’s ticket out of poverty. They taught their kids that there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish, no goal they couldn’t reach, if they tried their best, and prepared. So they made those kids study.


How can you say that family was “disadvantaged”? Indeed, his brother has a master’s degree and is working on a Ph.D., and his sister has a great job in human resources in another state.


But when they were children, they lived in squalid circumstances.


And here’s a powerful illustration of that:


When the brothers finished their homework every night in that little sitting room off the kitchen, they had something fearful to overcome in the next room.


That little rental house had a rat problem.


All night, as the kids studied, they could hear that telltale scitter-scattering across the linoleum. Naturally, they hated that noise. They hated even more the prospect of actually SEEING the rodents as they crossed through the kitchen at night to go upstairs to bed.


It would probably have been discouraging enough to most kids to make them avoid homework, or even being home. But blowing off your homework for any reason results in the academic failure that piles on to poverty and sets up even bigger obstacles for a young person.


These kids were determined to make it.


So they “developed a little strategy,” he said. “My brother and I would reach around the wall and turn on the light without actually going into the room.”


The rats would scurry away and hide. The kids could walk across the kitchen to go upstairs to their beds without having to see them or hear those disgusting rat noises.


Into the light, bravely: that’s how you gain a solid education and overcome poverty.


Today, he dedicates his life to people in tough situations like that. For openers, he was the longtime president of the board of the local Habitat for Humanity – which builds safe, clean and rat-free housing for people.


Through his ministry, he is an encourager, attempting to inspire people to have a positive impact on other people’s lives.


Whenever he speaks to groups, especially to children and youth, he always stresses that preparation is the doorway to taking advantage of opportunities. And preparation includes giving your education everything you’ve got.


“My goal in life is really to inspire people, especially young people who might be having a tough life,” he said. “I want them to realize that their life doesn’t have to stay that way.”


He added, “If my dreams are possible, so are theirs.”


With that kind of attitude, in the faith-packed words of Dr. King and all the civil rights heroes, from that fine old spiritual:


We shall overcome.


We shall overcome, indeed! †

By Susan Darst Williams | | Young’Uns | © 2020