Beliefnet
Excerpted from "Keeping the Faith" by Tavis Smiley with permission of Doubleday.

During my senior year at Indiana University, I came to Los Angeles to do an internship with Tom Bradley. It actually took me nine months, from January until September 1985, of writing, calling, and faxing his office, as well as using my student aid money to fly twice to Los Angeles to try (unsuccessfully) to meet with him, before he finally granted me an internship.

The unpaid internship lasted for one semester, from September through December of 1985. Through the course of my internship, I got to know the mayor fairly well, and when my internship was over, he told me he would hire me as a member of his staff once my studies were completed if I was interested. I returned to Bloomington, Indiana, to complete my degree, and one year later I packed up everything I owned into my Datsun 280Z and drove out west to Los Angeles to work for Mayor Bradley. When I arrived in Los Angeles, I discovered that the city's economy had taken a downturn, making it necessary to impose a mandatory hiring freeze on all employment opportunities. As a result, he didn't have a job to give me. The best advice he could give me at that point was to stick around until the hiring freeze lifted and he would bring me on staff right away.

The hiring freeze ended up lasting over a year. I found myself stuck in Los Angeles, without money, without family, and without a job. I was ashamed to admit to my college buddies back home that my situation had taken a turn for the worse. Especially since I had bragged to them about my success in landing a job right out of college.

I had received an eviction notice to move out of my apartment. I looked for work wherever I could. The truth of the matter was that I couldn't find any job, not even a menial one. I was denied employment at McDonald's because I was "overqualified." No one would hire me even for a manual-labor, minimum-wage job.

When I thought I could not go any further, I reluctantly called my mother. I broke down in tears, crying and sobbing like a baby. I explained to her that I was coming home because I could not make it in Los Angeles. I could hear Gladys Knight and the Pips warming up: "LA proved too much for the man. He couldn't take it. So he's leaving the life he's come to know." I had given it everything I had, but things weren't working out and I was at my wits' end.

My mother said to me, "Honey, you can always come home. You'll always have a bedroom here at the house, and all I want is for you to be happy. Come home, stay as long as you like, regroup, and do whatever you need to do. We are your family-we're here for you, and we'll always be here for you." I thanked my mother for her words of comfort, although I was very disappointed in myself. I did not want to go back to Indiana with my tail between my legs.

When I finished talking to my mother, I made it into the shower. In the midst of my tears, I reconciled myself to the fact that it was time for me to go home. "Things cannot get any worse for me," I thought. At that very moment, a massive earthquake hit the city of Los Angeles. I started slipping and sliding in the shower with soap and water flying everywhere. All of a sudden, the voice of the Lord spoke to me and said, "Things can always get worse; they can get much worse."

Hearing the voice of God made me realize that as long as I was alive and had breath in my body, there would always be hope. There are times when hope is the only thing we have to cling to. I didn't have a job, I didn't have any food, and I didn't have any money, but I always had hope.

I managed to make it out of the shower in one piece, and right away my phone rang. It was my friend Harold Patrick, calling to see if I was all right. When I answered the phone, I was still upset and trying to process all that had taken place. Harold became concerned about me and rushed over to my apartment. We ended up having a long conversation about my circumstances and my feelings about leaving Los Angeles and returning to Indiana.

Harold listened to what I had to say. Then he replied, "I will support you in whatever decision you make. But I want you to know that I am not going to give up on you until forty-eight hours after you have given up on yourself. I want to give you enough time to change your mind. I have great expectations for your future. I believe in you; you are the hope of my dreams. I'm going to be here for you." I was extremely moved by his words.

As I thought about God's message in the shower and Harold's unshakable belief in me, I saw in that moment my own sense of hopelessness through the lens of the blood, sweat, and tears of my ancestors and the sacrifices they had endured to pave the way for those coming behind them. We became the hope of their dreams, and the purpose for which many of them gave their lives. I thought, "I have a whole lot of nerve giving up on anything." Here I was talking about giving up hope and going back home to Indiana because I didn't have a job, because I was being evicted from my apartment. How could I compare my situation with the experiences of my ancestors who had survived the journey to America on slave ships, survived the institution of slavery, and lived through segregation?Those two back-to-back moments that morning in 1987 set me straight about what it meant to be hopeful. Since that day, I have never taken hope for granted.

There is always hope, and hope springs eternal. Whether we have money or not, whether we have good health or not, and whether our mates walk out on us or not, we need to latch on to hope and never let it go.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus