Feral

Free use photo from Pixabay

By Mike Johnson

Iíd quit better jobs.
In fact, this was the worst job Iíd ever held.
Which was saying something because I once sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door.

The concrete wall was a mile in length. It surrounded an inner-city, government-assistance housing project.
I was in charge of getting it painted.
In Florida.
In August.

The project was only funded because it was using a crew of disadvantaged African-American teenagers, most of whom lived in the development.
I was the white boss.

Iíd made a free job-search presentation to a group that served that community. Impressed, the groupís leader had gotten a grant to put some kids to work painting and asked me to manage it.
Iíve made better decisions.

The culture gap was significant.
The expectations gap was worse.

These kids were streetwise but they were streets without ambition, work ethic or people skills.

My respectful requests were directly challenged and refused. When I reminded them they had to work to get paid, I was challenged to a fight.
So I identified the alpha-kid and tried to befriend him. He asked the physical dimensions of my wifeís pelvis.

When I fired the mouthiest kid for refusing to work, he was rehired by my boss, who feared losing the grant.

Half of the wall was painted when I quit, with half of that painted myself.

Iím sure the heat played a role in everyoneísí behavior. The length of the wall didnít help. My youth, impatience and expectations didnít help. My color was certainly a barrier to the kids.
Which was a shock to me. Iíd worked with many stellar crew members of all colors at McDonaldís.

But those kids at the wall were unlike anything Iíd ever encountered before. I threw in the towel. And the paintbrush. And any desire to help.

The problem wasnít race, it was feral kids. They didnít know anything about how to function in civilized society. Nor did they want to. Theyíd found their place in a small sub-culture of minimal, raw survival.

There was no way I could communicate, let alone train any life skills.

Iím no hero in this story. I didnít fix anything. Not even that wall.

I just gained an appreciation for first, having parents in a stable home, and second, having parents who taught me values, discipline, behavior, character, education and work ethic.

Without that, everyone is feral and nothing works.

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More:

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