I can’t remember feeling so much joy over a story as I did today. It made me get the big lump in my throat and the tears teetering over the bottom eyelids. I’m sappy anyway, but this one put my happy meter into the red.
La’Shaun Armstrong headlined the news in April when his mother, Lashanda, drove her minivan into the Hudson River, intentionally killing herself and her three youngest kids. La’Shaun managed to escape the submerged vehicle but I can’t even imagine the level of grief, confusion, and loss that child has been experiencing since then. I think about him often, wondering how he’s doing and praying that God will heal him.
Here comes the joyful part: Ray Lewis and other NFL players, past and present, have been rallying around La’Shaun to offer support as positive men who are genuinely concerned about him. Oh how I love when folks step up and step in!
It doesn’t hurt that they’re pro athletes and that they’ve already donated thousands of dollars to help, which means he gets therapy, tutoring, and adoration. Or that his college education is already paid for. Or that, as a young, black boy, he gets to experience the love and attentiveness of men who look like him, especially because, according to reports — and the behavior that drove poor Lashanda to make that heartwrenching decision — his biological father is, in two words, an ass.
I don’t know the man personally but I sure have watched the scene play out in my life and the lives of folks around me too many times to give him too much of my benefit of doubt. So Lord only knows how La’Shaun would’ve turned out amidst his parent’s drama and his daddy’s aloofness.
I would never call this a blessing in disguise. It can never be recolored into anything but the horrifying tragedy that it is. And even with the amount of counseling and communal love he’s getting, La’Shaun is still undoubtedly going to think about his mother and siblings every day. Double that on birthdays, graduations, and holidays.
But that doesn’t mean beautiful flowers can’t grow out of little, seemingly impossible crevices. He can still evolve into a productive, strong, well-adjusted adult. The mentorship of these men will help see to that.
I’ve always liked Ray Lewis. I know he’s had some drama of his own in the past. Them murder charges didn’t just drizzle down from a cloud in the sky. But he and his foundation are philanthropic heavy-hitters, and when I saw him take such a genuine interest in La’Shaun and actually track him down so that he could help the boy, it made me even more of a fan. Too often the good deeds of professional athletes and celebrities in general are glazed over in favor of the more electrifying antics of reality show starlets and Charlie Sheen-esque highlight reels. Those are good for a laugh, a gasp and a shake of the head and maybe, if they’re really outrageous, a retweet or a Facebook share.
But this is the kind of behavior I wish would be more contagious — a man with money, power, and prestige not just writing a check and patting himself on the back for a community service moment but real engagement in the life of someone who desperately needs it. And, just to cut naysayers off at the pass, if it’s some kind of penance for previous bad decisions, so be it. To know that he helped changed the trajectory of this boy’s life and shift tragedy into recovery? That’s a real legacy.
I’ve got to say, too, that La’Shaun’s grandparents and relatives seem to be doing an amazing job. We already know that kids are super resilient. That’s been evident time and again, even in the images of children trying to play in the rubble of their tsunami and earthquake-ravaged communities. But to see him smiling and laughing only months after experiencing something that would put an adult in a state of mental meltdown warms my entire spirit. I am in love with this boy.
So much so that I’m scraping together some of my piddly little dollars — hey, I’m not a part of the Ray Lewis megamillion pay grade just yet — and donating to the movement to help La’Shaun’s family rebuild his life and hopefully, prayerfully, expectantly, shape his success.
Do you think more athletes should use their wealth and notoriety to help other people?