Many of you can relate to trying something new. Even something as simple as hailing your first Uber ride. And even though Uber is now vetted with credibility and a common practice, it was still new to me. I was in a new city alone hailing my first Uber ride so instinctively I internalized apprehension. I’ve always been in groups or with someone that managed our ride. I’m probably one of the latest on-boarders of this common practice. I bet some of you can relate to trying anything new for the first time that required the bravery of crossing a new frontier. I trusted the system, but it was a new system for me to trust.
After downloading the Uber App I entered all of my information and inserted Philadelphia International Airport as my destination. I knew there was some way to screen the drivers and select a preferred car. So I clicked on the first one that read Kevin 4.63*. I’m thinking, "Great, my first Uber hail and I pick a winner with only 1 stars and a Silverado truck". (Keep in mind I'm the Yelper that lives and breathes by ratings). My apprehension only increased. So while I thought I was scrolling through to review drivers, I had actually hailed Kevin 4.63 with a 1 star rating in a beat up Silverado truck. His truck was dented like he had taken a full impact to the passenger side door, his cab looked like it had never been detailed and Kevin gave off the vibe that he was a hard worker scraping by to make ends meet.
He was kind and gentlemanly and loaded my suitcase, opened the door and treated me with grace. We struck up a conversation first talking about why I was in town. He asked if I was in Philly for the Superbowl Parade, and I shared that I was in town for the conference. He said, “Oh you are in town for the tattoo convention?” (And to his credit, I was wearing a black thermal top and riveted grunge jeans and black boots for my flight home). I laughed and said, “No I’m actually here for the Title 1 Conference with some of the finest educators in the nation.” We both snickered and laughed. As he pulled away from the curb we instinctively started playing a game where I would point to a group of people and said either educators, Superbowl fans, or tattoo artists. We were distinguishing groups of people. That lead to a conversation about the diversity of people within the city of Philly and humanity in general. He shared how the Philadelphia Eagles were very philanthropic and donated much of their salaries and profits to local organizations. Kevin was proud of his city even amidst the adversity of poverty and homelessness.
I shared that my biggest observation traveling city to city presenting at conferences was the level of poverty so evident in our country. We began talking about the homeless on the streets and the current state of crises with mental health in our country that has lead to homelessness. He said, “Yeah, what makes it worse is that many of my buddies and most of the homeless are war veterans. Our country doesn’t take care of those that took care of our sovereignty.” He went on to share that he still reported to the navy on occasion (which I assumed to be the national guard). So when he wasn’t working for his golf company or serving the navy, he was Ubering it.
We talked about how many war veterans have become victims to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and mentally never reclaimed stability after serving in war. I had a million questions swirling in my mind that I wanted to ask him, but I was trying to filter them and grab on to the ones that wouldn’t pry too much or seem too intrusive, but I wanted to know his story. So I shared my own fathers experiences in Vietnam and all the night missions reclaiming bodies and wounded on enemy soil. I shared, "Somehow my father escaped Vietnam without PTSD but he lives every day with the guilt of losing his friend. To this day he is asking, Why him and not me, I was young and single and he had to leave a wife and children.”
This opened Kevin up to another level of trust and he said, “I know exactly how he feels man.” Kevin began sharing the story of one of his friends that finally made it state-side from Afghanistan but soon went missing from his family. Once stateside, his friend had completed the PTSD treatment and immediately went dark without a trace. Nobody could find him, not his buddies, nor his family. Kevin was convicted and determined to locate his war comrade.
Kevin made it his life mission to find his friend (Lets call him Buddy). After collecting as much information from his family, Kevin went on a search to find his friend. He knew the things Buddy liked and the way that Buddy thought, and through conversation after conversation with strangers on the streets, he was able to follow his path. If Buddy had been at a shelter, Buddy always left his mark. No matter where Buddy went, he helped someone else out in need. So Kevin would talk to those he helped and figured out Buddy’s next stopover. Everywhere Kevin followed, Buddy had done something to help someone else. When Kevin finally located Buddy, he found him passed out nearly intelligible laying flat on his face. Kevin had made it to his Navy colleague and friend to rescue him, but instead of being able to rescue him, he took his last exhale in Kevin's arms. Kevin looked into his eyes and comforted his dying friend and hero. His patriotism illuminated as Buddy passed on to another spiritual realm. Kevin’s search for Buddy lead him to yet another hero lost. The loss of a patriot. A hero. A friend.
Homelessness is not an impossible problem to solve. In a country with the most brilliant minds, the most cutting edge innovations, the greatest resources and our God-given sovereignty, anything is possible.
To Kevin, homelessness isn’t just a statistic that the federal government reports out to the nation, homelessness is the negligence of taking care of those that have made our country sovereign. Homeless people living on the streets are someone's friend, fellow war veterans, and sons and daughters that have lived a life impacted by poverty, crime and trauma. They are people. They are part of our humanity. The lessons I learned from Kevin and Buddy will stay with me forever.
I learned these lessons on my Uber ride today:
1. Every human has a story and deserves to have their story told.
2. You can’t judge a person by what you see.
3. Our country is focused on the wrong things.
4. Leave a trail of good works all along your path.
5. Be a warrior for those that can’t advocate for themselves.
I was given a spiritual gift of insight on this Uber ride. I felt like I was living an episode of Undercover boss. Only the real life version. This ride changed me. It deepened my conviction to be become a social justice warrior for all.
This took our Title 1 Conference theme of “Liberty to Learn” to a whole new level as I learned more about Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the very city that it was declared. God always has a way of speaking to me and teaching me life lessons. I hope more than anything that we listen to the "Kevin’s" of the world long enough to hear their stories. God uses people and intentionally places people in our path when we need to learn the lesson most. I have gratitude for Kevin and hope above all that his story of heroism makes it all the way to the White House. Those in the highest offices in government should honor him by listening to Kevin and finding a way to serve our homeless heroes. Kevin deserves honor, recognition and support to continue serving people even on an Uber ride. Kevin was demonstrative of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you are ever in Philly and need to catch a ride, not only will you make it to your destination safely, you will arrive changed.