Saturday, April 1, 2017

Please Help #GuardJaylonsFuture (a request for help for a friend)

From middle school through a portion of our college years, we were THE crew.

My girls - sisters not by blood but by choice.  We were somewhat of a unique bunch, all different, yet in many ways the same. We all had quirks, but that was a lot of what bonded us to one another.  We had our disagreements, but we loved each other and were loyal to one another.  Whether it was family troubles, monetary woes, school-related stress, boyfriend drama, health ailments, or something else, we knew we could count on one another. We all went to each others' school dances, each others' houses, each other's boyfriend's houses, etc. Later, each others' dorm rooms, each others' college graduations, each others' wedding and baby showers.  We added people and lost people, but at the core we were still the crew. Friends. Sisters. For life.

One of those friends was Shauntel. Shaun was the first black person I ever met who knew sign language (because of her Deaf sibling), and as a young girl through her I learned a lot about Deaf culture and disability acceptance. Her family didn't buy into the narrative that disability was a tragedy, and neither did she. In many ways, I have her to thank for my entry into disability advocacy years later; she planted the seed back in middle school and has been one of my biggest supporters as I've come into my identity as a disabled individual as an adult.

B.C. (before children), we all used to hit the clubs and have fun for hours dancing. It wasn't about the clubs, though; it was about feeling the music and having a great time together.  We've always enjoyed one another's company, even way back when. I have fond memories of watching Shauntel and another one of our friends, Miriam, dress up, put on waaaaay too much hair gel and makeup,  choreograph dance moves, and perform one of their many home videos to songs by Mary J. Blige or SWV. I might even have video footage… (AKA potential blackmail material, lol).

But life happened, and we all grew up.  I won't say that we grew apart per se because we never stopped caring for one another, but we did kind of function apart.  College, marriage, kids, families, life...long stretches of time often passed without any communication.  But whenever we get together, it's like nothing changed.  All of us, our big group, are still sisters for life.

(I dare not post many pics from our younger days because I was a little too fond of short skirts and tight clothing, lol. My choice of clothing back then was not exactly what one would call modest. But here are a few when we were older.)

(Pics of some of our gatherings; this one is from December 2007.)

(Pics of some of our gatherings; this is a birthday get together about 7 years ago I think?)

(Pics of some of our gatherings; this is a girls' night from about 3-5 years ago.)

(Pics from some of our gatherings. This pic was just last year when we were bridesmaids at a member of our crew's wedding.)

Shaun was one of the first of us to get married, to her longtime high school sweetheart. Now divorced, she is an amazing single mom to five great kids.  She has three black male teens, and has kept them out of trouble with the law and out of gang activity or other vices that are risks many black youth from single parent homes face.  Her daughters are confident and studious young ladies. Shaun has always strived to impart positive values in all of her kids. She works hard and has always been there for others even when she had little to give; she will literally give her last. Even when she is down, she is willing to help a friend with a kind word, a laugh, a shoulder, some advice. She is a good mom, a good woman, and a good person.

Pic of Shaun = #BlackGirlMagic in the flesh. 

(Pic of Shaun's beautiful five kids, all from her marriage to her high school sweetheart.)

The pic immediately below is a picture of one of Shaun with one of her sons.
Meet Jaylon. Isn’t that smile adorable?

Mom/son "ussie" of Shaun and Jaylon. I just love how happy his smile is.

Until this week, Jaylon seemed to be on his way. The high school junior, a first team all-district guard on his high school varsity team, was overjoyed upon receiving invitations to represent his state at various spring and summer basketball competitions, camps, and tournaments as close as El Paso, Texas and as far away as Australia. These opportunities would provide national exposure and increase his likelihood of catching a coach’s eye in hopes of obtaining a scholarship in order to fulfill his dream of attending college. Neither he nor his mother Shaun, who is his biggest cheerleader, could contain their joy.

And now it is all at risk of coming crashing down. A worker in an at-will employment state, Shaun recently found out the devastating news that her position was being eliminated and that she would be unemployed within days. Filing for unemployment while she actively seeks a new full-time job will help keep a roof over their heads and keep them fed. But it will not pay for registration fees, airfare, lodging, and the other expenses associated with these upcoming opportunities. She had intended to use earnings from her job to cover those costs. Now, unexpectedly, her means to do so has been stripped away, and she needs help to be able to provide these critical opportunities for her son.

Jaylon is a good kid with a strong sense of ethics. He’s more than just an athlete; he’s a good student; a respectful young man; a helpful big brother and thoughtful member of his community. However, as long as any of us could recall, Jaylon has been happiest when he has a basketball in his hands, and since the 5th grade he has been winning basketball championships year after year. He loves to play basketball; something about the game transforms him. It is evident by the gleam in his eyes; in the strategic movement of his limbs; in the rapid, rhythmic movement of his an internal dance. He is one with the ball, and it obeys his command - almost as if it is as captivated by him as he is by it, his first love. Jaylon, who is frequently featured in the local papers as a leading member of his team, does not just enjoy playing basketball; Jaylon is not just skilled at playing basketball. He was born to play.

But to Jaylon’s family, basketball represents more than just a game. It represents an opportunity for a brighter future. Left with five children to raise as a single mother after her divorce, Shaun has worked single-handedly to support all of her children with little additional financial or emotional support. Additionally, she has encouraged her children to maintain involvement in positive activities to prevent them from falling into the trap of crime and violence that befalls so many other youth of color from modest means. Their family doesn’t have much in terms of material wealth, but they have everything that they need, and they have one another - a value far greater than wealth.

If not for this sudden loss of employment, Jaylon’s trips would be covered as his mother fully intended to budget as necessary to pay for it, as she has always worked to meet her children’s needs. But now their family is in need of help or Jaylon will have to forfeit these potentially life-changing opportunities that can serve as the lifeline between a life of struggle and a chance to pursue higher education.
As I mentioned previously, I know this family well; Shaun is one of my oldest and closest friends. She has ALWAYS provided for herself and her children, and to need to ask for help in such a manner is not something that she has typically done. That’s why I decided I would create this fundraiser for her, because I KNOW the help would be a huge blessing to her son. I can 100% vouch for this family that they are the real deal.

If you are able to help donate and/or share the link to the fundraiser, which is, I would be extremely grateful for your kindness.

Pic of Jaylon on the court, concentrating so hard that his tongue is sticking out!

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