Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Stories to Restore Faith in Mankind

People do horrible things to other people, while some people do amazing things for others. Here are two stories, both reported by NPR, that may restore faith in your fellow man.

The stories are about a high school football coach in Detroit and a homeless man in Baltimore. Both give of themselves and inspire others. In their respective worlds, they are the go-to guys. And the people who often depend on them have very few others places to go.


Photo Credit: NPR

Corey Parker grew up in a tough Detroit neighborhood. For him, football was his ticket out. It landed him in a private high school and then to college. His experience taught him that football was the ride, not the destination.

When he took over in 2009 as head football coach of River Rouge High, Parker immediately made academics the top priority of his players. He talked about class work and going to college as much or more than the football team’s playbook and tackling fundamentals. Last year, nine of out 14 graduating seniors on his team received college scholarships. The team’s overall GPA was 3.0 in a high school where less than two-thirds of young men graduate.

Parker’s players like to win. They advanced to the playoffs. But they also know Parker’s first focus is success in the classroom. He sacrifices practice time for study hall. He awards starting assignments on offense and defense based on played GPAs.

There are a lot of football coaches who see football as a path out of poverty, but few go as far as Parker. When one of his players tried to commit suicide, took pills and was arrested for stealing a bike, Parker and his wife decided to take the young man into their house, providing him with his first bed to sleep in. Later they adopted him. Now the young man is attending college on a football scholarship. Like Parker, he is on his way to a new life.

Tony Simmons, 53 and a former Marine, spiraled into homelessness after getting hooked on heroin, becoming a drug runner and landing in and out of jail. He wore out his welcome with friends and family and, penniless, was reduced to living on the streets. Two years ago, Simmons realized it was time to change.

For Simmons, change didn’t mean leaving the streets; it meant helping other homeless people living on the streets.

Tony Simmons

Photo Credit: NPR

“You must start with yourself. Get up. Get going. No excuses. That’s what I tell myself every morning after prayer. ‘Cause every time I help one person, I get a little part of me back,” Simmons told NPR.

Now Simmons is an unofficial ambassador to the Health Care for the Homeless clinic that serves many of Baltimore’s estimated 3,000 homeless people. He mans a help desk, which was created at his urging. He hands out fliers with information about free church dinners and food pantries. He gives a lot of hugs to people that he knows are facing many of the challenges that he has faced.

“The one thing I try not to do is tell them what to do,” Simmons explained to NPR. “I just give them the avenues: ‘These are the resources that’s out there. Choose something that’s right for you, and I will help you navigate through that system.’ ”

Clinic officials say Simmons can reach people they can’t, like Theodore Maddox, Jr., who succumbed to drug addiction after serving 30 years in prison for murder. Maddox told NPR he watched as Simmons helped people, often without regard to his own well being on Baltimore’s rainy streets. It left quite an impression.

“Here’s a dude that’s unselfish,” Maddox said. “So it taught me how to be unselfish, you know — don’t just think about me. I have to think about other people, too.” Maddox is off drugs and moving into his own apartment. He joins Simmons in speaking to others – from city hall to college campuses to the street.

Simmons is a whirlwind as he teaches at Johns Hopkins University, lobbies the Maryland legislature, mentors homeless youth, writes articles and helps people facing eviction from their housing. With all that, he is still out on the streets giving hugs and showering people with hope.

Simmons says he doesn’t do that much for people. He just tells them, “Get up. That’s all. Just get up.”

It is nice to know that at least some people have their priorities straight.



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