In a matter of seconds, one person’s decision can change the lives of two or more people. Too often the unforgiving streets turn otherwise good-natured children into self-preserving, impulsive criminals.
It’s believed, however, that compassionate intervention programs provide an opportunity to build better decision-making skills in wayward youth. One such organization is UEmpower of Maryland, based out of Baltimore.
UEmpower blends nutrition and cooking skills with mentoring to give at-risk youths an alternative path to follow. At times, however, even those enrolled in such programs can struggle to make the right choices.
In December 2016, Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector had just gotten into her car, which was parked in a gated and guarded home parking garage. Two truant boys happened to be in there looking for cars to steal.
When they came across Spector, they pulled open her door and demanded her car. Spector recalled an exchange of nasty words before they pulled her out of the car, punched her in the face, and threw her up against the wall.
The eight-time councilwoman attended the boys’ court hearing where she was approached by UEmpower who asked her to help them help the boys. Drawing from her Jewish faith, she forgave the youths, citing, “the Talmud says you first have to have empathy. You have to do acts of love and kindness.”
Spector was invited to the neighborhood where the boys were from. Over half the families live below the poverty line, lead paint is a problem, and youths are far more likely to be murdered than in any other part of Baltimore.
The house where the younger boy lived was without electricity; at the time of the carjacking, he’d attended two days of school. The day bus passes were distributed was the last day the school had seen him; he’d since been using his pass to prey on vulnerable targets.
Despite being a public figure, Spector has quietly been acting as the boys’ advocate. Charged as juveniles, the boys were sentenced to house arrest, which would have prevented them from participating in UEmpower’s programs.
Spector advocated that the boys be allowed to continue their cooking and mentoring. In addition, Spector hired a tutor for the younger boy who has since begun to read and has reenrolled in school.
Accolades are pouring in for both youths as they wok to better themselves. The older boy has really internalized this unlikely olive branch as a second chance to turn his life around.
Spector had approached the older boy in the courtroom and struck up a conversation. For the first time, the boy was faced with his actions, recalling, “I was like we couldn’t have done this. Not this bad. But it turns out we did. It just broke my heart.”
Yet he knew Spector’s forgiveness was not for show. “Every time she seen me, she kept giving me kisses on my cheek. I kept giving her big hugs.”
Recently, the boys were honored at the synagogue where Spector worships. Although the older boy was anxious that people would see him for the horrible mistake that he made, he was relieved to have people shake his hand and tell him that they were proud of him.
Even his mother, Lakeisha Jones, has seen a notable change in her child. “He’s more focused on what he wants to do in life. He’s trying to finish school and he’s trying to be a role model for kids in the neighborhood, but also his little brothers.”
Spector both recognized the importance of keeping these boys busy and engaged, and in stepping up and providing support and compassion in spite of what they’d done to her. While many people seek to help, not many could help the very people who’d once beaten and robbed them.
Although proud of the boy’s growth, Spector is aware they continue to be a work in progress. She hopes, however, that her assistance and UEmpower’s work with these boys will be enough to set them on a path to a successful crime-free future.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.