He was the first to go to college. It was not expected or even encouraged. But he got on a train one day and started a new trajectory for himself and his family, yet to come.
He went to a school he loved. Met friends he still has. Played a lot of cards and got a good job.
He had a son and then a daughter, who, though troubled, grew and left in cars he bought them. For college and then for life.
His daughter had a daughter and then she had a son. Her son died. He canceled his trip to Italy, despite her protests, and flew across the country for the funeral one week after the boy died. He sat at her dining room table and told her college roommate, the first friend she made there, that he would start a scholarship.
He is humble. He told close family only and worked close with a man at his old college, the one in Ohio, the one he took the train to, the one that is full of brand new buildings that look old, the one where he still feels at home. He and the man became friends He and the man made a plan: the Harvey Richard Walker Scholarship for Humans Right.
He flew his daughter and her daughter to the college to see it, to dine with the man and the dean and the president and the other alums. The man arranged a meeting with the director of the human rights center at the university of Dayton, the only one of its kind. The kind that trains not academics but advocates. That teaches responsibility, accountability, compassion and care. That is actually doing something, many things, to stop human trafficking and slavery in the states and abroad. The director assured us, as did the dean, that this was a program that is making a difference. His daughter could feel the ripples.
She had sat holding her dying baby trying desperately to come up with ways to not let this just be a waste, just a loss. They donated his organs. She pumped his milk. What else could be done? What other good could come from his body, from his being here? The eyes, the heart valves, the milk were the first ripples, the front lines. Could there be more? More than personal transformation through fire and hell on earth? There could. Even though it felt meaningless for so long, robbed her of so much joy, no gift or lesson able to even be imagined, there could be.
He could use the money he made, the money his parents made, the money that made money on the market. He could make a difference in this world in the name of the boy who died. Because he was here and he died and we loved him with our whole hearts and wanted him to stay more than anything we’ve ever wanted in our lives, students for years to come will be able to get the education they need and want but couldn’t afford. They will learn real skills, how to negotiate, create policy, evaluate programs, talk to victims and perpetrators, lawyers and law enforcement, travel the world and advocate, research and innovate. They will tell the stories of the most vulnerable. They will change the course of the lives of the most vulnerable. Because he was here, because he died, because he was loved and wanted, this boy and his grandpa will change the world.
They called his name and he and his daughter and her daughter, all arms empty without the little boy to wrangle, walked up to the podium. They told his story. They said the boy’s name. They took a picture. His daughter went back to the table and cried in front of everyone because someone said his name. She so rarely gets to hear it and never from a stranger anymore. Because people are going to type his name and write his name and say his name because of the scholarship, because of the generosity of his grandpa, because there is so much horror in this world that needs light shone upon it and young people will want to do just that and will, under his name.
Read more about the amazing work being done at the University of Dayton’s Center for Human Rights.