“I want to share with you the story of one of the most inspiring people I met on my blue highways journey,” Adam said at the beginning of his staff meeting.
Charlie is a sixty year old African American, living in a small home in the middle of a long forgotten town. Charlie never made it past the third grade. The only thing that distinguished Charlie’s home from the others nearby was the children. There were kids everywhere. Some were riding bicycles while some were sitting at a large picnic table doing their homework. The garage double doors were open, revealing a fleet of bicycles, and along the back wall, a row of filing cabinets containing letters sent to Charlie. There was a blackboard along one wall.
Charlie was a farmer. He had worked the cotton fields since he was a younger man. Charlie was married young in life and his wife died giving birth to their daughter. Tragically his daughter lived only five years before dying right before Christmas. A little bicycle sitting in Charlie’s garage was to be her first real big present.
Charlie was shattered. He became a recluse. He talked to no one. He only left the house to go to work and buy necessities.
One day, a young boy knocked on Charlie’s door. Not knowing of Charlie’s loss, the young boy asked one of those questions that seemed to change everything. “Mister”, the young boy said, “I’ve noticed that new bicycle in the garage. I’ve never rided a bicycle before. Could you let me use it?”
Charlie looked down at the young boy. Tears formed in his eyes as he took the boy’s hand in his and walked toward the garage. Charlie put the boy on the bike and helped him get his balance.
The boy fell over more than once, but each time Charlie picked him up with an assuring pat. Gradually the boy discovered his balance and in 30 minutes he was riding with confidence. Charlie let the boy borrow the bike but asked him to return it in an hour.
At the end of the hour, the boy returned. Charlie looked at the sadness on the boy’s face as he returned the bike to the garage.
“Can I ride again tomorrow?” the boy asked.
“It’ll cost you,” Charlie responded.
“I ain’t got any money,” the young boy responded with a look of concern on his face.
“I’ll tell you what. You teach me what you learn in school tomorrow.”
That was the start of a remarkable sharing experience. Other children heard of Charlie’s generosity. Charlie bought a couple more bicycles and started a bicycle “library”. The only condition to use a bicycle was that they teach Charlie something they had learned.
Gradually Charlie expanded his operation. Children who made the honor roll for one complete year were given a bicycle to keep as long as their grades remained strong. A study hall was created to help children achieve the grades they needed. Older children taught the younger ones. The children study skills. Charlie learned as well.
The impact of Charlie’s encouragement could be seen in the school’s overall performance. Sixth grade test scores were the highest in the state. Education leaders thought the Jackson teachers were unfairly helping their students because the scores were consistently the highest in the state year after year.
Not only were test scores high, but Jackson sports teams were always among the leaders in the state. Something was obviously happening in Jackson. Drug addiction that plagued other small towns like just didn’t exist. Families started helping each other, churches thrived, and unemployment decreased.
The most remarkable thing was how generations of bicycle riders were reaching out to others in need. It seemed as if Charlie had created a perpetual hope network. That’s making a difference.
Adam let his staff read the story without comment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Then he commented: “Hopes are often reciprocal. Providing hope to others also restores hope in yourself.”
* * *
“Compassion is an action word with no boundaries.”
– Prince (singer)