Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Robert Kennedy Jr.(my most important blog)
I was nostalgic about things yesterday. It is funny that all of this is happening in 2008. Forty years ago in 1968 my mother's house was being remodeled. I was 14 years old. My sister was seven.
Recently my sister sent me some pictures of the work that is being done on the house. I recall when the shag carpet was installed in January of 1968. It took many years to replace it and my sister was successful in accomplishing that task, recently. Change is finally taken place. It has been a long process, a hard process but one that is yielding fruit in increasing the quality of life and understanding.
I decided to share something this morning.
In a previous blog, I mentioned that I had met Robert Kennedy Jr. I believe the timing is right to finish the story.
In the spring of 1972 a friend of mine was murdered. His name was Robert Ballou. He was at the Hollywood Palladium while he was attening a concert. I was down the street at the Chinese theatre watching "Diamonds are Forever" with a friend of mine who returned from college for the evening.
When I walked out of the movie an ambulance drove by with flashing lights. I did not know that my friend had been murdered. It was the murder that brought the Crips into the public eye. Robert's death was front page news in the Los Angeles Times.
Robert was in the YMCA club with me. His father was a dedicated father as was mine and our fathers becamed great friends as well.
I could not attend the funeral because I was flying to the University of Pennsylvania the next day. I was being recruited to play tennis.
I left Los Angeles on a Thursday night and stayed on the Penn campus for days.
Afterwards, I went to Boston to Harvard College to see a friend of mine who lived a few houses away from me and next door to Ray Charles, the musician. My friend Alfred went to Harvard School as well.
After a couple of days, Alfred took me to meet a friend of his in another dormitory.
His friend was Ambrose and he had three other Harvard students sitting in his dormitory. I took off my coats as I was multilayered. Everyone else was used to the cold but it was my first east coast winter experience. I introduced myself to everyone.
I noticed a man who sat on the sofa between two other students. He was quiet and had a look on his face that he experienced some things that few people would ever experience, let alone understand. He had very aware eyes and an aura that communicated leadership. The aura was so familiar to me.
He reached out and shook my hand. It was Robert Kennedy Jr. Immediately flashes of Dallas and the Amabassador Hotel went through my visual mind. The emotional pain returned to me. I had burried all of that pain and it engulfed me like a flash fireball.
I immeditately bonded with the man. I was an ardent Kennedy student. I read many of John's speeches. I had studied Robert Kennedy voraciously.
I was the youngest person in that room. Robert Kennedy Jr. was only a few months older than I but was light years ahead of me in experience and dealing with a plethora of circumstances, and painful ones at that.
In the six years I was at Harvard School, I had met many celebrities and public figures. I became friends with their sons as we grew up in that little school. It was very common to be around the powerful, public or behind the scenes. However, this one meant alot. I had just experienced the death of another friend, a friend who fell at the hands of violence. I met Robert Ballou the same year that Robert Kennedy Jr's father fell in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. It was the same kitchen where my mother drank coffee before working on his campaign.
It was a very special moment for me and one that I have remembered many times but I never shared it with anyone until recently. I have never shared the part I am about to share now.
I flew back to Philadelphia the very next day. I had on the same clothes and hat that I wore when I entered the Harvard College dormitory. As soon as I arrived on Penn's campus, I was told of a college protest at College Hall, the building which contained the president's office. College Hall, by the way was used as the model for the Adam's Family House, the TV show that was popular in my youth.
I joined in that protest. At that time it was a normal thing to do. I walked by a few protests while at Harvard. It is funny that the President of Harvard University was Derek Bok. He was an alumnus of the little Harvard School for Boys. His students were protesting the Vietnam War. They wre protesting the policies of Richard Nixon. Haldeman was the Chief of Staff for Nixon and he was an alumnus of Harvard School. In fact, they were at the school at the same time.
I knew all of this when I was there and I thought it fascinating to be at so close to so much power. I thought it wild that two men from a little school in Los Angeles were on the east coast and wielded so much world power. Indeed, I was absorbing another level of the curriculum that existed at the school that was beyond the academic one.
As I said to you, the protest was on the College Hall Green.
It is now 2005, I am training for the Los Angeles Triathlon. I am at USC everyday.
I am reducing my consumption of cocaine and walking on the campus where I was born and where I experienced so much. My father was a graduate student there and the names of classmates' families were on the walls of the buildings all over the campus.
I was regaining my pride and self dignity daily. I sat in that spa and watched the swim team workout and it reminded me of my AAU days. Teammates of mine were on the USC Wall of Fame. I was reexperiencing the things that had brought me success. I was also resolving issues that needed to be closed: my parents divorce, my grandfather's murder, grandmother's murder, the disappearance of my uncle and the death of the Kennedy's. I never talked to anyone about any of these things and they had such an impact on my life. "Kennedy Athletic Center" was a sign I read everyday and I trained and focused harder than ever.
I remembered my day with Robert Kennedy Jr. and the impression I had of him. I felt him to be very strong and special.
I remember a story about him that I had read about his heroin addiction. One night his wife sat down and told him that his heroin addiction was destroying his family.
He looked at his wife and told her that he would never use drugs again.
HE NEVER USED DRUGS AGAIN.
During that time I was working out, and the years before that it was very important that I kept my word when I said it. It was part of the process of cleansing myself of bad habits and developing a tradition of good ones, of developing a tradition of integrity to self that was the tradition of my family and was the tradition that was engrained into me ata the Harvard School an which I was reviewing everyday when I saw the names of friends on the walls of the USC campus.
It was a special day for me when my picture was put on the USC swimming pool wall where great swimmers have been. Former team mates were a part of that list and now, in 2008, the USC coach has been giving the honor to coach the Olympic team in China.
He respected my work ethic and shook my hand and told me that I deserved to be
"The Swimmer of the Month." I never missed a day. I was swimming for my life.
I shared all of that to get to this point.
In 2006, my friend, Randall, called me on the phone one day. I had just found the letter that Robert Kennedy had sent to my mother five days before his assasination.
I looked at that letter daily. I also found a "Life" magazine issue about the John Kennedy assasination that was next to my mother's bed. I never moved that magazine in the 40 plus years that I saw it. I never new what it was until I cleaned out my mother's room and got rid of decades of pain that had piled up in clutter.
I told you that I had to march miles to get to each last yard to finish using drugs.
Cleaning my mother's room, throwing away the clutter, cleared the air and a freshness was in the air. At the same time, I had viewed documentaries of Robert Kennedy on television. I watched tapes of the Vietnam War. I cried each time I watched these things. I realized that my hard work was paying off. I was healing. I was letting go. Finally.
Randall went to Penn also and he was working on the campus at the time. He told me that he found a book that had just been published. It was titled the Photo History of the University of Pennsylvania.
He said he found it in the Penn bookstore and for some reason he kept looking through it. He found a picture of me in the book. He promised to buy it and send it the next day. He did.
On the day it came, I swam at USC. I read some speeches of John Kennedy at the USC Law School. I was there everyday after I swam. I read journals on International Law. I was reading the Constitutional Law book, chapter by chapter.
I was returning to "self" Nobody knew this but except my mother and me. She told a college room mate who called one day, 'Mike, Walter is buying books again and studying them all day."
I quickly tore open the package and was amazed at the photos. Photos went back into the 17 and 1800's.
On page 109, the anumber that was the number of his brother's PT boat that was torpedoed, was a picture of Senator Robert Kennedy. He was standing on the steps of College Hall. It was 1966 and he was speaking to the students of Penn in front of College hall. I had just put down the letter he sent my mom when the package arrived.
On the very next page, was a picture of a black student protest. A few students were carry placards walking around and a few were standing on the steps of College Hall.
There I was. I was one of the students on College Hall. I was totally unprepared for this. I thought the picture of me would have been taken while I was a student.
It was not. The picture of me was taken when I was being recruited to play tennis for Penn.
The picture of taken in April of 1972. In that picture I had on the exact same clothes that I had on the day before when I was in a Harvard dormitory and speaking to Robert Kennedy Jr whose father was on the page preceding mine.
It was one of the greatest honors of my life. I thought about history and tradition. I thought of perservence. I thought of honor and dignity. I remembered and felt everything because I worked so hard to regain it all.
I grabbed the book, the letter from Kennedy to my mother and a picture of my mother and father and walked out into the backyard. I thought of the pain my parents must have felt but never revealed when the Kennedys were killed. They never were campaign workers again after Bobby was killed.
I thought of how Robert Kennedy Jr gave his word to his family and that he kept it.
I had received mail from his Natural Resources Defense Council not to long before I found the letter and received the book with the picture of me on the page after the picture of his father. I thought of everything that meant everything to me and the courage it took for him to keep his word. He had to keep the family honor and carry on traditions, traditions of value and public service. I had to keep the family honor and regain my total dignity and self respect.
It was time. I had monitored myself. I knew how I felt at each incremental stage. I had written volumes of self observations, going through the process. Suddenly, I realized what happened. I no longer needed drugs. I was free of them. I sat there in disbelief. I wondered when it would come. I knew I was close but I did not know how close. Everyone in the drug world knew I was leaving it. They did not know when. I was no longer going to strattle the fence in behavior. I had committed myself to a new life and all that it meant to me with respect to me and my family.
I walked in the house and told my mother I would never do drugs again.
I HAVE KEPT MY WORD.
I marshalled alot of forces to get to that point. As Tony Robbins said, change takes place in a second. Everything else before that is preparation. I changed and it surprised me how complete it was with respect how complete the adjustment was.
I have been challenged with changing life circumstances since I made that commitment but I always kept my word. I always will. As time has gone by, it is more important that I keep my word now than it was then. It shows that I was thorough in preparation and complete in my commitment.
When I returned from Philadelphia in 1972 the first thing my father told me to do was to see the father of Robert Ballou. I went to the house and Robert Ballou was there with a little girl sitting on his lap. She was four years old. She was Robert
ballou Jr's sister. I noticed in her eyes a shade of what I noticed in Robert Kennedy Jr's eyes when I met him. She, even at that age, knew that she was experiencing something few would or understand. I remembered that look.
In 2007 I landed on Skid Row a few months after I arrived the STRIVE program started. I saw this woman who I thought was special attend class. She had a familiar look on her face. She possessed this inner strength and something told me she was very insightful. Something told me I knew this woman but not in recent times.
I walked by her one day and saw the name tag she wore that all students of the STRIVE program wore daily. Candice Ballou it read. Immediately I knew she was
Robert Ballou Jr's sister and the girl I saw on her father's lap after I returned from Philadelphia. After meeting Robert Kennedy Jr. in Boston.
It came to me that that unique insight and look in the eyes that she had was the same that Robert Kennedy Jr had. They shared a horrible bond, though they do not know each other. They survived an experience that a small percentage have experienced.
I remember watching on the television a documentarhy of Robert Kennedy when I ran across the obituary of Robert Ballou Jr. Someone had asked him if he wanted the death penalty. He said no. It surprised the interviewer because of what happened to Robert's brother John. Robert responded that he changed his views on the death penalty after he read Camus. He learned how to forgive.
I remember how I read it after I saw that program and what it did for me.
Candice was in a program that had alot of Crip members. These were the descendents of the founding Crip gang members, the very same founders that killed her brother.
I wanted to do something for her so I told her to read Camus. Days later she came to me and told her that I helped her gain closure, that after meeting me and reading Camus she slept better than she ever had.
I did good I thought. 40 years after 1968, when all of this began, when I met Rober Ballou Jr and when Robert Kennedy was killed, I was able to use experiences and connections of my past to heal someone. I met her after meeting Robert Kennedy Jr.
They have so much in common and they don't even know each other and they share so much.
Candice is now working for the STRIVE PROGRAM. She completed it.
I want to thank the Kennedys for the hope the have given the country and for letting my family be campaign workers for their family since 1959. I was at the Democratic convention when John Kennedy secured the nomination. I want to thank the Kennedy's for being a part of my healing process. I want to thank Robert Kennedy Jr. for providing me with the courage to make the final step and commitment to a better life and in turn in becoming a better family member.
As Robert Kennedy said, all of this has come from the "Awful grace of God."
I write all of this because some things have come full circle since 1968. It was not too long after those assasinations that I started doing drugs. I guess I was able to dull the pain with the consumption and did not even know what I was doing to myself and why I was doing it.
I have discovered this doing this long process.
In 1968 my sister was 7. Now she is 46. The house was being redone at that time. My sister is redoing it now. I am proud of her. I have enured the how work to be proud of myself over the years. It was not easy.
I Learned not to ask what my family could do for me but what I could do for them as I realized that something had to changed. I embarked on a program to make those changes to be able to accomplish the things that I felt needed to be done in order to help my family.
Something happened that I have learned to understand alot. I have read Camus.
I no longer think of things that are and say why. I think of things that are not and say why not.
My sister told me to write short stories. I believe, I have finally written one. The timing is right in all ways.
Tomorrow will come. I pray that God believes it is time for me to return to my family and be of service to my family and my community in ways that I have always dreamed but feared never would occur. Times have changed and the fear is gone. The albatross is off of my back. It is her decision,though it is in God's hands.
Tomorrow is the end of my first year on Skid Row. I interviewed for a job that will be here. I would like to be of service. I would like to use what I have learned here to better my own community of Leimert Park while helping people here to better their lives.
Some people asked me if I wanted them to speak to my sister. I said no. I want her to find it in her heart to look at me and feel me as I am now, not as a person in pain who did not know what he was doing for so many years, a lost soul who could not find his way home.
It could be a glorious beginning. I have thought of so many ways to be a better brother and son. I started on part of that journey long ago. I have continued the hard work.
I would like to thank everyone for their support this week. The accolades that I have received have been overwhelming in content. You have followed me more than I ever would have thought and your respect for me is more than I could have ever imagined.
The people of Skid Row, I have so much for which to thank you. You have all been great professors. I have endeavored to be a good student. Your words this week surpass anything in life that I have before experienced.
People of Skid Row do not give praise easily. They have been let down so many times. You must prove it time and time again before you are given the nod of approval. You have given me that nod. I gave my word to myself. I gave my word to my mother. I gave my word to the spirit of Robert Kennedy and to my father who is now in heaven.
I gave it to my sister though she does not know it. I have not let her down.
I will not blame her if she does not believe. She has good reason. She was robbed of her brother for a long time. I love her and, God willing, I can begin to show her tomorrow.
The country has come a long way. Yesterday was historic. God, I pray tomorrow is a new beginning for me and my family.
Thank you everyone. I love you.