Jason was 12 at the time. He and his mother, Deb, lived in a housing project near Cincinnati. His father had been in and out of his life, mostly out. His unemployed mother was struggling with her demons, while trying to protect her son from getting sucked into the world of drugs and violence that surrounded them. He was a smart kid who was not living up to his potential.
Like all "bigs" in the program, I made a commitment to give Jason at least one hour of time each week for one year. I thought I'd do my year of service and move on. It didn't quite work out that way.
Jason and I connected from our very first meeting. We both loved sports and would play basketball for hours on end. We saw countless movies together. And, he introduced me to rap music in the form of LL Cool J. He loved cruising the streets of Cincinnati, with the windows open (even in winter) and Cool J's "Mamma Said Knock You Out" cranked at maximum volume.
In time, Jason started to get his act together at school. His mother completed nursing school and began working as an RN. Then she met and fell in love with a pipe fitter who was working on a special project in Cincinnati. His project was completed and he decided to head back to his home town of Casper, Wyoming. Deb decided to go with him, thinking that Casper would be a better place to raise her son than in the projects of Cincinnati. While I was sad to see my friend go, I knew she was making the right decision.
As it turned out, Deb was right. Jason prospered in the safe, open air environs of Central Wyoming. He attended one of the top schools in the state. One of the proudest moments of my life was watching Jason get his high school diploma in 1995. Tears streamed down my face as I thought about his journey from being an angry, confused 12 year old, simply struggling to survive the ravages of inner-city poverty, to this moment of achievement.
That was 20 years ago. Jason now works as a junior high school athletic director in Casper and recently bought a new home with his wife Cassie and two incredible daughters, 2 year old Stella and 4 month old Ava. It seems appropriate that their home would be the first stop on my Journey across America. After all, Jason has been such an important part of my personal story.
Many thanks to "my brother" and his family for giving me a warm bed as my journey continues.