Thursday, April 15, 2010

Everybody is a star

posted Sat, 07 Oct 2006

It’s autumn and you know what that means! Football! And children begging for money in the streets!

Yes, that’s what happens in Memphis. Rather than raise money the old-fashioned way – by extorting it via $5 car washes or bake sales, the youth of my fair city harass drivers at busy intersections by asking for “donations.”

I have always wanted to ask one of these kids – they are usually between 11 and 14 years old – why they don’t use a more honest means of making money. Today, I had my chance. As I was running past the usual begging intersection this morning, a group of the kids was taking a break. One of them asked if I wanted to “give a donation.” I told him no, then asked if they had considered doing something to earn the money.

“Huh?” he asked.

“You know -- work for the money.”

At this point, the adult with the group walked up. I was impressed – I have never seen a grownup with these kids before. He had overheard my question.

“They are earning this money,” he said. “They standing out in the hot sun for eight hours. That’s work.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. “They’re begging. You’re teaching them to beg. Why not teach them the value of work?”

“We not begging. We asking for a donation. If we have a car wash, it take half an hour to wash a car and we get just five dollars. How is what we doing different from when the police and the fire department come out here and ask for donations?”

“The police and firemen are grown men who already know the value of work.”

“How come the city council won’t fund these programs to keep the kids off the streets like they say they want to do so we got to come out here and ask for money? I got over 40 kids I coached who have college scholarships or who are in the NFL now.”

I put my hands up. “Good for you. I’ve said what I’m going to say. But you’re teaching them to beg instead of how to work.”

It wasn’t until half a mile I way that I perfected my argument. I almost turned around so I could re-do the conversation. If I had, it would have sounded like this:

Coach: If we have a car wash, we take half an hour to wash a car and get just five dollars.

Me: So you’re teaching them to take the easy way to money. That it’s better to take a handout than to work. What a great value. Maybe they’ll become drug dealers instead of taking jobs at Wal-Mart because the money is better. Money is the only consideration, after all.

Coach: How is what we doing different from when the police and the fire department come out here and ask for donations?

Me: Usually, the police and fire departments are raising money for a cause outside themselves, like some charity. Even if they are raising money for themselves, it benefits me. I benefit from a police department and a fire department and I pay taxes to support them, but I have no obligation to pay for youth activity programs. If their parents can’t afford it, that’s sad, but there are churches and private charities that support that. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for those programs.

Coach: I got over 40 kids I coached who have college scholarships or who are in the NFL now.

Me: That’s really great, but the true lesson you need to teach every single one of these kids is to choose work over taking a handout. You might have a few kids who get college scholarships, but all of them will need to work – and you’re not giving them that life lesson.

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