So Obama called the Philadelphia Eagles owner to talk about two random things: greening the stadium and Michael Vick’s second chance. And, in the words of one blogger, all hell broke loose.
This is what I think about second chances: we all deserve them.
But he killed dogs!
Henry Kissinger was instrumental in the death of thousands of southeast Asians, and yet, he is considered an elder statesman of US diplomacy.
But he killed dogs!
This country voted for Geoge W. Bush (twice) and now he’s earning millions on his book and speaking tour - after starting two wars, crashing our economy and tanking civil rights in this country all in the name of fighting terror.
But he killed dogs!
Yeah, he did. So did this guy.
Because he killed dogs, now Michael Vick is a black man with a prison record. His nifty NFL contract is the only variable separating him from the fate of hundreds of thousands of other black men with prison records. Perhaps it’s the rarity of second chances for these men that makes Obama’s recognition and commendation of second chances so startling and impolitic for the rest of us.
So who deserves a second chance? Who deserves an opportunity for redemption and repentance?
Unlike Tucker Carlson, whose grasp of the Golden Rule and Christian love/forbearance is rather shaky, my father shows me what it means to give someone a real second chance. As part of his ministry he has mentored black men from all paths: gangbangers, ex-cons, drug dealers, alcoholics, burnouts, and probably one or two men with pasts so violent and abhorrent we would run away from them. While it exasperates me (as it exasperated my mother) to watch him make such an exhausting effort for so little return, I have a feeling that I am missing the point.
The results may be few and far between to most of us but the effort is what matters; my father is doing something no one else in the world seems to want to do: love and help black men.
My sister and I came home from school one day to find some strange man washing dad’s car in the driveway. In the kitchen, mom was watching from a window and we asked her who that man was. She sighed.
‘It’s another of your father’s men,’ she said. ‘He came to bible study and now he won’t leave. He has a metal plate in his head where he was shot by police for drug dealing. What is the point?!’ Another big sigh. My mother could only see wasted effort.
My sister and I, however, were fascinated that a man could have a metal plate in his head.
I’m happy to say my mother was wrong. That man with the metal plate built a construction business, has a wife, three sons he’s fighting to keep alive, a house in the Valley, and is one of my father’s best friends. When my mother died, with his big construction hands, he lovingly wrapped all the little Christmas village houses my mother had collected and took them home because he said they reminded him of Lucy.
And right this very minute, my father is boarding a young man with obvious emotional and mental issues from Indiana. This man had heard my father’s sermons, contacted him and drove to California to escape whatever personal hell had been pursuing him in his hometown. Like a black Boo Radley, he lives in my father’s house and silently endures the squinty-eyed side-glances from me and my sister when we visit.
What does he want? Is he trying to take advantage of my dad? What if he’s crazy?
‘Lock your door, dad,’ I said to my father on the phone one night. ‘If he goes nuts, make it hard for him to kill you.’
‘Little girl, you need to stop. He’s just trying to get back on his feet.’
‘Well, when will he?? He’s been there for months! Why’s it taking him so damn long? Why can’t he find a roommate on Craigslist? Why does it have to be you?’ I know I sounded like my dead mother but I couldn’t help it.
My father sighed.
‘You girls have never understood this. Not even your mother. It has to be me because no one else will do it. You don’t understand. No one loves the black man. We’re beaten and ashamed and neglected and put away. No one loves us. No one. And so if I don’t, who will? Who will show this young man he’s a creature of God? If it’s not me, who will do it? The county? The welfare system? Who, dammit, who?’
(I am actually tearing up remembering this conversation.)
My father loves the black man and cares about what happens to him when it’s not politic to do so. His ministry to black men is not necessarily about finding someone a job or keeping him from the law. His effort, and hopefully Obama’s call, is about showing these men that they have a second opportunity to become, and be seen as, a full human being again.
It’s the point that everyone is missing – even the well-meaning dog lovers, feminists, Maddows, Ezra Kleins and asshats like Tucker Carlson.
So who deserves a chance to be regarded a full human being again? Michael Vick does. And every black man like him.