An African American man in our town, a man who is a poet, an actor, and community organizer has started a Saturday morning ‘thing’ where he pays young men $20 to show up at a certain location and work on community clean-up and gardening for four hours.
For a long time, he just showed up with his own $20 bills but after a while other community leaders started driving by and dropping off their twenties. Now he seems to be attracting a crowd of folks with $20 bills and a bunch of young men who think a twenty is worth four hours of their time. And I think two things about that.
First, is it the twenty or the praise it shows? Young men, especially young African American men, can become so starved for recognition of their being and their worth, that a twenty seems like gold. It isn’t the $20, it’s the man giving it to them. It’s the message that man has for them.
‘You matter’ is the phrase that comes to mind. If I was young and jobless and just spending my days neither here nor there, I would fly like a lost bee to the honey of this one man with his $20 bill and the recognition it represents.
Second, that this one guy is doing this is a thing of beauty. There are no rules or outcomes, no admission criteria, no judging. You show up. You work. You get the $20. In the meantime, if you let some older men grab you around the shoulders and walk you down the block when you get tense or listen to somebody who has a job tell you how he got it, all the better.
Good works don’t have to be complicated.
The Twenty Dollar Deal, as I call it, is a model for assertive community action. A single person just decided to do something, walked out of his house, and just started. Never mind the incredible unemployment statistics in our town, the rising and terrifying gun violence, the mass incarceration of African American men, the inability of elected officials to figure out anything to do except schedule press conferences and convene new task forces.
The beauty is in the unilateral move. Things are fucked up. Do something.
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22/100: 22nd essay in a series of 100 in 100.