In 2007, I met a woman, whom I’ll call Francine, who called me on behalf of a Los Angeles company which wanted to establish performing arts centers in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The dream was to engage disenfranchised minority youth in the world of the arts in many different forms, so that they might find a refuge after school, or to use music and acting and art to inspire a new career path. It was an exciting idea and I was jazzed myself to figure out how to get this project off the ground.
The company cut me a check for $1,500 as a retainer and I flew back to El Paso. For several weeks, Francine and I strategized on how to begin. One of the first steps was to form a non profit organization which required that I return to Los Angeles to begin the process.
It was at our second meeting that I learned that the money paid to me on retainer had come from Francine’s own savings, and not from the company. “My mother was a single Mom, and I swore I would never turn out like her,” she told me. “And guess what, I’m now a single Mom with three children, living in a small apartment. This pattern has to stop!”
My gut tightened as I realized the intensity of Francine’s desire to change the reality as she saw it for her and thousands of other African American women who were trying to make it as a single mom. I had already spent her money flying back and forth to L.A., so I could not return it, as much as I wanted to do so. I began tackling the performing arts project as a volunteer. I knew that what Francine was trying to accomplish was probably going to not make it, but we rolled up our sleeves anyway. She had no more money and no backing from anyone else who saw the need to help revolutionize the trajectory of these young lives, most of them minority children from households living in poverty.
After several months of knocking on doors and calling in the contacts I knew in the arts world, Francine made the decision to leave Los Angeles. She and her family began a great job in Miami and found a beautiful home with a big yard for the children to play. “I am paying the same amount for a big home as I did for my small apartment.”
For many years Francine and I stayed in contact by phone or texting at the holidays. But now I no longer communicate with her.
I have been thinking about her a lot this week after all that has happened in Baltimore. I wish I had stayed the course in trying to find a way to make a difference in the lives of inner-city children by replicating this model across the country. It had been her dream to take it beyond Los Angeles. Francine, you were a head of your time, and I miss you.