A vignette: Ken’s story

Ken was the type of kid who took pride in his awkward habits. The type to proudly declare that you might find him sitting off by himself at a party playing with his knife. Thinking, I suppose. Ken wasn’t weird. In fact, he was actually quite funny, and I think we all enjoyed his company. We would play video games together (he always won at Mortal Kombat). We would talk about how we both loved hip hop, and we had dreams of starting rap careers together.

But Ken was heavy into drugs.

It wasn’t a big deal that he smoked weed regularly. However, the weed turned to dabs and dabs turned to acid, and acid turned to pills. Then Ken got stuck one day. He just hung out in his house all day, not talking to anyone, just cleaning. Continually cleaning.

It wasn’t the first time I had seen someone get stuck. I had seen it twice before, actually.

Another person that was older than us and who we thought was so cool got stuck. On the mental health ward, you’d stop by and see him and you’d say, “Hey, Josh, what’s the word of the day?” And Josh would say some random word. It was all he could really say.

And another person who was on the mental health ward, she couldn’t talk. She just… she just sat there. Until one day she just wrote, “Loud.” It was remarkable. Loud. What was loud?

Ken, Josh, and she eventually all snapped out of it. None of them remembered getting stuck. I don’t know what happened to the latter two, but Ken got caught up in the wrong crowd. Acid turned to pills when he met someone with a pill addiction. They encouraged him to move in with a blind relative, and they proceeded to rob that relative. I guess after that they headed out west. I think to Colorado.

I cared deeply for Ken. I tried to help him.

Last week I met a Ken. His name was Dillon. He was 18 and homeless, hanging in the public library. He was fleeing an abusive family and had made it about 45 miles. Area homeless had adopted him as a member of their group. He was thinking about going out to Kansas City. “The train would take him out to Kansas City.” Then, maybe, head down to New Mexico. Then, maybe, Texas. Or he was considering going to California with a friend he had just met. But he thought maybe that friend just wanted to go to smoke crack.

Don’t worry. He wasn’t smoking crack now… just, I guess, trying to perhaps get some.

I gave Dillon my number. I told him, “Life’s hard, and be careful about who you surround yourself with.” I told people about it. They said we need to dump Dillon off in another city. Make him someone else’s problem.

Ken and Dillon’s lives are evidence that it’s hard to overcome an abusive family and to see you’re making mistakes when your friends don’t seem to think they’re mistakes at all.

There are hundreds of thousands of Kens and Dillons. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I study community leadership and how to be a role model, because the Kens and Dillons of the world don’t have a shot unless folks like me are fighting hard to understand how to do the right thing.