I admit it. I was a little anxious about leaving Roosevelt in his new apartment all alone on the first night. Ok. I was more than a little anxious, I was a nervous wreck. I felt like I was walking away from one of my own children on the first day of school. Roosevelt said, “I’ll be fine.”
Then he went into great detail about how he was going to prepare his first meal, get a shower and lay on the couch and watch some tv.
This is the first time in Roosevelt’s life that he has had a home of his own.
Let me repeat that. This is the first time in 58 years that Roosevelt has had a home of his own.
Growing up in Sanford Florida, he was shuffled between family members after his mother was killed in a downtown Sanford bar. He never knew his father and in school his teachers pushed him through each grade even though he couldn’t read, because he had no one there to advocate for him. He never even had a room of his own.
At 16, he was standing on a street corner when the nefarious white van pulled up. A man asked him if he wanted a good job and a place to live and Roosevelt got into the van and thus began the nightmare of crew leaders, farm labor, violence and fear that would be Roosevelt’s life for the next 40 years.
When I first met him he was living in a shack that had plastic covering the spaces where windows should have been, rats falling through the ceiling and snakes coming up through the holes in the floor. He shared this broken down wooden shack with as many as six other men, sleeping on the floor and eating green bologna and moldy bread and he paid with everything he earned working 14 hours a day in the fields.
The shackles that bound Roosevelt and many others still today, are not made of iron. Instead they are made by stripping individuals of their most basic human rights, which leaves them feeling less than human, exposed to violence, intimidation, manipulation and ever present fear. The shackles that bind the slaves of 2016 may be invisible, but they are just as binding as iron around their wrists.
Think slavery doesn’t exist today? Think again.
Life has not been good to Roosevelt, but you would never know it to talk to him. He harbors no ill will towards his abusers, no hate toward those who took advantage of him his whole life. He is, in fact, one of the kindest, most gentle souls I have ever known.
And he is so happy now. Today he has a great circle of friends who love and care about him, who protect him, help him and celebrate him. And because of all of the people who care, Roosevelt has come to this place, a sanctuary called home.
The best thing about having a place of his own he said, “I ain’t got to worry about nobody bothering me.”
He can sleep, he said, whenever he wants to. “I can go get something out of refrigerator and not worry about somebody hollering at me about it.”
“I can watch the tv and fall asleep and let the tv watch me and ain’t nobody gonna fuss.”
For Roosevelt, it’s the very simplest of things that matter. But for those of us watching this unfold, it is about basic human rights or rather, the lack thereof and the fact that nobody, no one, in all of his 58 years ever cared that he and so many others, were and still are, denied these rights.
Rights, that we all take for granted: the right to equality, freedom from discrimination, the right to life, liberty and personal security, freedom from slavery, freedom from torture, from degrading treatment, the right to recognition as a person before the law, the right to rest and leisure, education and an adequate living standard.
All of these were denied to a man, born in the United States of America and living in the 21st century in a community just a stones throw from our homes.
Tonight, Roosevelt will rest his head on a clean pillow, under a roof that doesn’t leak,a floor without holes, a refrigerator full of food and under the glow of the television set in his clean, safe apartment.
Tonight, Roosevelt is a free man.
At long last, Roosevelt has a home of his own.
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