I’m Back…And The Best Work Voicemail Ever

I’d first like to thank Cox Communications for a very interesting two months.  My cable provider allowed me to wake up every morning not quite knowing what to expect…internet or no internet?

Since I’m not quite sold on writing personal blog posts at work, the intermittent service was a very frustrating obstacle to posting something new on my blog…something I promised myself wouldn’t happen.

That said, I got a little lazy, too.  Moving on…

THE BEST WORK VOICEMAIL EVER

Not another restaurant.  The last thing Wichita needs is another restaurant.

In Wichita, the number of restaurants is a joke…literally, something people joke about.  It’s amazing the grocery stores have been able to survive amidst what must be a population that sustains itself on eating out.

However, I listened to a voicemail left on my work line early last week and had to replay it to make sure I’d heard right.  The woman’s voice said a local non-profit dedicated to helping former gang members rehabilitate themselves into the community was opening a restaurant…the employees of which would be the gang members.

Sometimes, the news gods smile down.

Welcome. You just helped turn a kid with either no future or a harmful future into one with simply...a future.

City Life Cafe is run by Youth For Christ, a local organization that’s held a work program for former gang members in Wichita for several years.  It’s modeled after Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles whose motto is “Nothing Stops A Bullet Like A Job.”  Mentors work with boys in the juvenile justice system who’re on probation.

After a few phone calls and learning more about the restaurant, I walked into the remodeled building at 2111 E. Central for opening day.

Roosevelt “Buck” DeShazer, Sr., manages the restaurant.  The Wichita pastor grew up in Mississippi dealing drugs as early as 11 years old.  Buck tried to kill his stepfather.  Buck’s stepfather tried to kill him.  He was involved in shootouts and openly admits he could have died a few times over by now.  However, he found faith and began to realize there must have been a reason he survived.

Buck also knows once the juveniles he mentors get out of the justice system, there’s not much waiting for them except the gangs.  No one wants to hire them.  Old friends were part of what got them in trouble in the first place.  Family members often want nothing to do with them.  With nowhere to turn but the gang, telling a vulnerable young man, “Be good,” doesn’t go very far, does it?

“The reason why they’re in a gang is that sense of belonging,” says DeShazer.  “They get that sense of family, and so what we’re trying to do is let them know there is another life.  There is another way.  There is another family.”

Today, he mentors young men like Markeece Anderson.  The 18-year-old is serving time for robberies he committed for the gang he was a part of, and he had a very telling way of describing what Youth For Christ has done for him.

“(This is) taking time away from my hands to mess up or just think about doing something that’s going to get me in trouble,” Anderson told me.

The young men at City Life Cafe are nowhere near the gang member stereotype.  They’re courteous, work hard, and have already recognized the difference in an honest dollar and easy money.

Anderson will be released from the juvenile justice system this week.  His time with Youth For Christ’s work program (which includes yard work, light construction, etc.) has helped him pay back court fines and restitution.  He hopes to go to college soon and try to open his own barbershop someday.  Until now, he always assumed he’d sell drugs for the gang until he got older.

When he got older?  The imagination of the future goes blank there.  He didn’t know.  Like most gang members, he seems to understand he envisioned going forward business-as-usual…but already knew that wasn’t realistic.  It means (like many of those who’d already written him off as a statistic) he’d resigned himself to a destination of either prison or hell.

That’s a hell of a thing for a handful of mentors to turn around.  Right now, Buck and fellow mentor Dale McMullen can only handle nine young men at a time.

City Life Cafe is open Tuesday through Saturday serving breakfast and lunch.  Tuesday through Friday hours are 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  On Saturday, it’s 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Buck likes everyone to know his southern fried catfish is the best in Wichita.

He and his boys have a lot of competition for the average Wichitan’s restaurant dollar.

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