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The Community Stepping Up, by: Derek Koen

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8/8/11

This year I invited Shaq to my house for my family’s annual 4th of July BBQ. He spent the weekend with us; we all really enjoyed having him there. I didn't know that Shaq didn't eat pork, we cooked a whole pig and he helped throughout the entire process. He even did as the Romans did and tasted the pork, to the utter delight of my southern uncle who cooked the "hog". He did complain about the bugs a bit, flies, mosquitoes, gnats and the like. After a long, long night, he awoke with us in the AM to help clean up, in the rain. Noticing that I was suffering from a mixture of geriatric poisoning and barley consumption, he opted to carry the heavier items. . . thank you young man my back was killing me.

Bringing Shaq home on Sunday, he was really quiet. As we pulled into his mom's housing development I became really sad for him, and for all the little boys and girls who have no choice but to figure "it" out for them selves. The development is in serious need of attention, as we got closer to the entrance of his building there were young men milling about, he said "them bugs are not looking so bad right about now, at least I don't have to worry about them shooting me". . . Then he turned to me and said desperately, "do you think I could spend the rest of the summer at your house" I said quickly, no! and I explained, because I'm barely home and the limited amount of time that I do have, is devoted to my children. But I will pick you up a few more times during the summer for the weekend. He seemed to really like that idea and seemed resolved to going home. There were three young men sitting on the stoop and I projected on to them the many negative images I try so hard to fight. They did "seemed"(because I've been trained by all forms of media to judge) to be doing what they should not be. I said whats up fellas, they didn't say a word. It could of been thousands reasons they did say anything, I looked like a cop . . . On my way out, though he saw me one of the boys was blocking the door, another boy was clearly doing something inappropriate, he said "how you know little man?" even though Shaq is about a foot and a half taller than him. The boy blocking the door may have been 19-21 years old but his eyes have seen a lifetime. Looking him directly in his eyes, I said very confidently, I'm his mentor, there was a pause, ( good thing they could not hear my heart) he cracked a very very small smile, and said "thats what up" and gave me a pound (Obama fist bump) and allowed me passage.
Both ventricles thoroughly cleansed, I returned to my car both upset and happy at the same time. Upset by my fear of young men that look and act as I have in my youth. Happy because in the end, I could see by their response, they want the best for themselves and others.
The next morning on my way to work I got a call from a friend checking in on how the BBQ went. I told her about my experience the night before and how I wanted to find something for Shaq to do for this summer. She met Shaq at the NOLA screening with GFE last year and fell in love with him. She offered to create a summer internship program for him and find a family to host him if Ouida and I would take care of flight arrangements. Deal!!! We had a conference call with Shaq's mother and she quickly gave her permission. It took us about three weeks to pull it all together, my friend planed to host a screening for all the possible participants for Shaq to intern with. Now, during this time I thought about changing my number several times, Shaq called me about 4 times a day for check in or just to ask a question. If I didn't answer he would call me until I did, up to five times in a row. We did have a conversation about how I thought that was very Bumpy Johnson of him, and he then stopped after two times in a row.
Final the day came for Shaq to go to the airport I had spoken to him the night before

DEREK
Shaq I'm going to pick you up between 4-5 tomorrow.

At 4pm on the dot he called, ring , ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, yall get it.

DEREK
Whats up young man?

SHAQ
I'm ready!

DEREK
SHAQ! I told you I would be there between 4-5!

SHAQ
I know, I was letting you know I'm ready, my bags are packed . . .

I got there at 5:20 (I pride myself on being on time for the record) after more back and forth calls to check in. Then we rushed off to the airport catch a 7:30p flight, in Friday evening traffic. We stopped at a franchise burger spot to get something quick; I'm embarrassed to say. We made it to the departure gate just in time to see the flight status change from 7:30 to 9 pm. Though he tried to maintain a positive attitude, I could tell he was beginning to become discouraged and doubted whether he would really leave. He was pacing like a expecting father . . . 9pm turned into 9:40p and finally they began the boarding process. A great big smile came on his face, he grabbed his bags and gave me a hug, and it was all worth it.

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