It is surprising, the students say after Anthony has left the room. “Surprising and inspring.”
A man. Homeless. Asked to come and tell ‘his story’, to a group of high school students on a tour of the DI, turns the tables.
“What you want to do with your life?” he asks one young boy in the room. A Grade 11 student, he is unsure.
“How can you be unsure?” Anthony responds. “You gotta have a plan. You gotta know what you’re passionate about and you gotta go for it. You gotta have a plan,” he adds, a big smile taking the bite out of his words.
“How did you end up homeless?” a student asks.
And Anthony tells the group about his promising football career. How he came west after moving from Tampa Florida where his father lived to go to college in Toronto where his mother lived. Moved west in the hopes of playing professional ball. Everything was going according to plan. And then, an injury.
He shrugs when he tells the students about his messed up leg. “I didn’t have a back-up plan.”
“I was working two jobs, one of them under the table. That’s where I hurt myself. Because the job was under the table, I couldn’t claim WCB. I had no savings. No backup.” He shrugs. “I ended up here.” Big smile. “And I’m glad I did.”
The students are surprised by his attitude. His candor and his questions.
“What you passionate about?” he asks one young girl. “And don’t forget to say your name. You gotta introduce yourself.”
She looks down. Quietly says her name.
“Hey! Can anyone hear her?”
“Not really,” the group responds.
“What you got to be shy about?” he asks her. “Who’s that serving? Be proud. Be bold. Be courageous.”
She looks up. Tries again. Says her name. Out loud.
“What’re you passionate about?” Anthony asks.
“History,” she replies in a loud, clear voice.
“What about history excites you?” Anthony queries.
And she shines. She speaks of her passion for the Medieval period. For the middle centuries.
“Wow!” says Anthony. And he turns to the group. “You see that passion? You hear it. See how her eyes shine? You go girl!”
And she smiles. Big.
“What you want to do with your passion?” he asks.
And she has an answer. She has a plan. And a backup too.
Anthony turns to four young men he’d spoken to at the beginning of the session. They all played football. They had all waffled on their responses when he’d asked them about their prowess in the game. “You not going to make it if you don’t have the passion,” he tells them. “It’s gotta live here,” and he thumps his chest.
The group nod their heads in unison and Anthony continues going around the room, asking questions, making observations.
He’s funny. Intuitive. Bright. He has them enthralled. Engaged. He is masterful.
And when he leaves the room the group talk about how surprised they are, how impressed. “I’ve volunteered at lots of agencies,” says one young woman who’s dream is to become a psychologist. “And what I notice here is, it’s real. It’s not about helping people because we’re the helpers and you’re in need of help. It’s about being a community. There’s no ‘us and them’, it’s all of us together.”
The group nods. “Yeah,” says another young woman. “I came here really nervous, apprehensive and now, I realize, we’re all just human beings. People’s lives may be chaotic, but they’re the same as me. No one dreamt of being an addict. And everyone has a dream of a better life.”
And the truth enlightens the room and these young people, these ambassadors of tomorrow gather their belongings taking with them the knowledge they can make a difference. They can make their dreams come true.
“Life on the field of football goes past way faster than life out here, whether you’re homeless or not,” says Anthony. “You gotta play hard. Play for keeps. You gotta play like there’s no tomorrow.”
“What’s your dream?” one young girl asks Anthony.
“Well,” he replies. “I’ve got my dream and I’ve got reality. I dream of being a pro-football player but reality says, your knee won’t let you. So, I’ve adjusted my dream to fit my reality. On the days my knee doesn’t hurt too bad, I go work. I’m here today because my knee wasn’t up to the job. And one day, I know, as long as I keep focusing on doing what it takes to make my dream come true, I’ll have a hairdressing studio of my own. That’s my dream, and I’m going for it.”
And the students applaud and Anthony smiles back.
One man made a difference today. He made a difference by turning the tables on a group of students walked into the room believing the status quo and shifting their perspective. “Being homeless isn’t criminal,” Anthony said. “It’s hard. And without this place, I’d be lost. Just like everyone else. We need places like the DI,” he adds. “So that people like me can get back on their feet again, and so that those who can’t can still find a way to make their dreams come true.”