Reaching Out to Urban Youth
About the Guest
Tyrone Flowers was a promising young athlete whose athletic career was cut short when a teammate shot him, leaving him paralyzed. Tyrone went on to achieve his law degree, and currently uses it to help urban youth. He shares the details of his story, and how God has been working in his life.
Tyrone Flowers was a young athlete whose career was cut short when a teammate shot him, leaving him paralyzed. He shares the details of his story, and how God has been working in his life.
Reaching Out to Urban Youth
Bob: Tyrone Flowers was a top high school basketball player, on his way to a scholarship, when a fellow teammate pulled out a gun and shot him three times, leaving him paralyzed.
Tyrone: Those three bullets weren’t the worst thing that happened to me. The worst thing that happened to me, growing up, was not having adults that believed in me—hearing people—because of my background, my last name, or the color of my skin—every time I walked up to someone and tell them, “I want to be a doctor,” or, “…a lawyer,”—or anything I saw on TV—“…a police officer,”—they would always tell me I couldn’t do those things.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We have a very special program today, where we’ll hear about the power of foster parenting. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We are live at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Chicago. That’s the cue for the raucous applause. [Applause]
Dennis: Alright! [Laughter]
Bob: A little bigger crowd than at the first Summit, down in the conference room in our offices, ten years ago; right?
Dennis: There were 38 of us at that first event. The cool thing about this, as I’m looking out over the audience, is that there are 35 countries represented here this year. [Applause] It really is—
And the thing that encourages me about this audience here is—that they have found what Barbara and I have found—when you go near the orphan, you go near the heart of God.
Bob: Well, why don’t you introduce our guest on today’s program?
Dennis: You know, we have Tyrone Flowers joining us on FamilyLife Today. Tyrone, welcome to the broadcast.
Tyrone: Thanks for having me. [Applause]
Dennis: Tyrone, I want ya’ll to know, is a hero. He and his wife Renee have been married over 17 years. He lives near Kansas City and gives leadership to a ministry called Higher M-Pact. There’s a way that he got into that—and it really illustrates Romans 8:28—that “All things do work together to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Tyrone, you had quite an upbringing. In fact, I’m going to just cut to the chase. At the age of six, you got high.
Tyrone: Yes, unfortunately, on the day I was born, my mother made it very clear she didn’t want to be a mother. So, thank God, my grandmother stepped in and raised me with her 12 other children. When you are raised with a bunch of teenagers—They experimented with a lot of things—drugs, sex, and alcohol. At an early age, they got me high and exposed me to those things.
Dennis: When there aren’t parents protecting a child, they really are vulnerable to all kinds of things. Your grandmother actually helped raise you, but she became sick.
Dennis: That really was a game-changer for you as well.
Tyrone: When my grandmother became ill, I was removed from my home. That’s when I was placed in foster care. From the age of seven through ten, I went through three different foster homes. At the time, I really didn’t understand what was going on because I had a large family. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t live with one of my relatives.
Dennis: The thing that I want to just emphasize here—because we have a daughter—and she and her husband have cared for 20 foster-care children, over the past half dozen years. I think what we don’t realize, many times, is how a good, godly foster care family can make a difference in a boy’s life. You did not have that kind of foster care experience.
Tyrone: No. I just want to make it very clear that I truly believe in the foster care system and that they’re doing great work—but my experience wasn’t the greatest. Part of the punishment from my foster parents was placing me in a basement overnight. It wasn’t like a finished basement with carpet and all of those amenities. It was concrete, cobwebs, and cold. I can remember, vividly, sitting at the top of the steps, just banging on the door—just begging for them to let me out and trying to negotiate whatever terms—you know, just for them to give me another chance.
Bob: You know, as you hear that described, and as you’ve said, we’re advocates for the foster care system.
Bob: But it really does mean that more people—who love, and care, and are willing to sacrifice—need to step in and provide homes for kids, like Tyrone, who are vulnerable; right? [Applause]
Dennis: The church is the only institution, globally, that is large enough to address the needs of orphans.
Dennis: I think it is a ready-made opportunity for the body of Christ to lock arms together and engage in the lives of boys and girls to make an impact in their lives.
Bob: That’s really a hallmark of your story—is the profound power of simple acts of love in the life of a child. You experienced some of those. In fact, you have some experiences that landed you in Juvi.
Bob: There was a woman in the Juvi system—who you still smile about her when you think about her; don’t you?
Tyrone: Yes, sir.
Bob: Tell us about her.
Tyrone: Well, you know, one thing—like I said—is that, once I was placed in the foster care system, you become very angry. There are several ways you can deal with anger, you know? You can take it out on others, or yourself, or destroy property. I was one of those angry kids. I went through the three foster homes—then went to the residential treatment facility. I landed in Juvenile Family Court.
I can recall Ms. Collins. She was a cook, and I was just going through the meal line. One day, she just looked at me and said, “You remind me of my son.” When she said those words, she didn’t realize the impact she had on my life because, when she said that—on the inside, I instantly said, “If I remind her of her son, then she could be my mother.” From that day on, she was my mother; and she didn’t know it.
Ever since then—I mean—if you add up all of the time we’ve spent together in our interaction, it was less than 24 hours—it was only when I was going through the meal line. The only way I can say, “Thank you,” to her without saying, “Thank you,” was that I made her a jewelry box in woodshop. I put her name on it.
I went through the meal line, and I gave it to her. That was the last time I saw her. About 20 years later, I ran into her son. He looked at me and said, “Are you Tyrone Flowers?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I want you to know that you’re my mother’s favorite son.” [Laughter / applause]
It was really interesting because, at that moment, it made me feel good. He gave me her number. She was living in Wisconsin. I gave her a call. I said, “Ms. Collins, do you know who this is?” She said, “Yes, it’s Tyrone Flowers.” The first thing she said was, “Do you know what’s sitting on my dresser?” I said, “That jewelry box.” She said, “Yes.”
Tyrone: So, long story short—when Ms. Collins expressed the needs that her family had and the things that she wanted to do for her son—at first, I was mad at her family because I thought they were burdening her in making her provide for their children. But she did it with a smile. The thing I took away from that was—anytime you’re working with the kids, we need to make it abundantly clear that they are not a burden, no matter what the challenge is.
So, with the kids I work with, that’s one thing I express: “No matter how challenging it is, you are not a burden.” Ms. Collins gave me that.
Dennis: There was also a man who made a similar impact in your life—Mr. Joyner.
Tyrone: Well, Mr. Joyner kind of caught me at an early age. In my community, sometimes, one meal a day was considered a good day. Every time I would knock on Mr. Joyner’s door and ask for food, he would sit me down and feed me. Now, this was a painful experience because I was just wanting to grab some food and leave—but he made me go wash my hands [Laughter], come sit at the table, and then he would put some drink in front of me and salad—and ask me a whole bunch of questions. [Laughter] I was frustrated because I just wanted to leave; but, at the same time, on the inside, something in me said, “This is right.”
I can recall telling myself: “When I get older, I want to do this for me and my family.” We would have that meal, and that was that; but anytime I asked Mr. Joyner for money, he would put me to work. In the early ‘70s, you know, all I wanted was a quarter or a dollar. He would put me to work. So, I never had a problem with work and compensation.
But one thing happened—I was working for a dollar one day.
The ice cream truck came by. He asked me if I wanted some ice cream. I said, “Yes,”—we had a Kodak® moment. After that, I continued to work; and he only gave me 75 cents. I thought, at that time, he was cheating me because one thing about working with kids, who come from that background—you’ve got a strong sense of justice and fairness. You’re willing to throw away, sometimes, quality relationships when you feel that you’re being done wrong. So, in order to compensate, I broke out all the windows in his house. Then I thought we were going to be even, but that wasn’t the case. [Laughter]
During this process, I wanted to heal our relationship; but I didn’t know how to say, “I’m sorry.” I thought that was weak, and I didn’t know how to say it. The only way I could say I was sorry was by working with him to pay for it. He gave me that opportunity. The lesson I took away from that was—sometimes, in working with kids, they say they’re sorry through their actions and through that relationship.
Tyrone: From that point on, Mr. Joyner has always been in my life: When I graduated from community college, he was there. When I met my wife, I introduced him to her. When I graduated from law school—undergrad and law school. And he always gave me the same gift—a card and $5. [Laughter]
Dennis: You did what a lot of kids do in their teenage years. You made basketball your escape. You had three offers to play college ball, graduating from high school; but an event changed the course, not only of your life, but ultimately your eternal destiny. Share what happened.
Tyrone: After going through all of the juvenile facilities, the only thing that people saw in me—because I’ve never successfully completed one program / any of the programs I was in—they kind of gave up on me and sent me home. I was 6’4’’, 230 pounds. All they saw in me was basketball. I played basketball and had those scholarships offered.
The sad part about it was that I didn’t know what a scholarship was. So, I turned all three of the scholarships down because no one in my family had ever graduated from college, and I’d never set foot on a college campus. I was more comfortable going to jail than I was going to college.
So, I turned those scholarships down; and I decided to go to the Army. I was used to people telling me what to do, and when to do it, and how to do it. I figured, “Now, at least, I’ll get paid.” [Laughter]
I was influenced by two movies—Officer and a Gentleman and Stripes—[Laughter]—you know, if you think about it—two individuals / knuckleheads decided to use the Services as their way out. I thought, “Maybe if they did it, I can do it too.” I remember vividly the scene between Lou Gossett, Jr., and Richard Gere, when he had messed up and lost his home visit because he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to do.
It was that scene where he was, you know, spreading water in his face. He basically gave up on him and said, “Get out!” Richard Gere said: “Don’t you do this! Don’t you do this! I have no place to go.” I was sitting on the edge of my bed, with tears rolling down my face, because I’d never had a Plan B. So, when they bonded and he ended up being successful, that’s when it really gave me hope that, if I could make it through the Service, maybe I could be successful.
Bob: Did you get in to the Army?
Tyrone: Well, I passed the written and physical exams to make it into the Service. The next day, I got on a bus to go and celebrate with one of my friends. On the bus, was the starting point guard on my basketball team. We had gotten into a verbal confrontation. I thought, “We’re going to get off the bus and potentially get into a fist fight or get into an argument.” That’s when he pulled out a .357 Magnum and shot me three times.
Dennis: You ended up being paralyzed, obviously.
Dennis: You were filled with rage / bitterness, trying to think of how you could get back at him.
In the midst of that, somebody invited you to go to church.
Tyrone: Well, one thing about getting shot. Those three bullets weren’t the worst thing that happened to me. The worst thing that happened to me, growing up, was not having adults that believed in me—hearing people—because of my background, my last name, or the color of my skin—every time I walked up to someone and tell them, “I want to be a doctor,” or, “…a lawyer,”—or anything I saw on TV—“…a police officer,”—they would always tell me I couldn’t do those things.
So, here I am now, in a wheelchair, and really no direction with this anger and rage. My goal was to either kill him or put him in a wheelchair. I had a lot of questions as far as, “Why me?” As far as, “Why did I have to get shot this way?” Being a young, African-American male, everybody assumed that it was drug or gang-related.
I grew up religious. You know, I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; but I knew God. So, I kind of went to Him to ask Him that question. Basically: “If you don’t accept Me, there’s another place for you to go—and that’s an eternity in hell. You’ve got another shot at this.”
Part of salvation is forgiveness. I was the type of person who wanted to get this guy back. I figured I’d get him first, then God could forgive the both of us. [Laughter] But, as you know, we can’t work things out in our own timing. You’ve got to do it in God’s timing. I was fortunate that God gave me enough strength to forgive the guy that shot me.
Dennis: There were two things that happened at church. Obviously, you met Christ; but you also, for the first time in your life, had a glimpse of how God takes a broken man and turns him into a real man.
Tyrone: That was a huge impact because these young men I was seeing—you could see that they could be successful in the world if they choose to use their talent. I’ll never forget—I was there, waiting on my ride. One of the ushers came out. He came out with his wife and his three children. He pulled the car up, and they all got into the car.
That was the first time I saw a family—an African-American family—intact. In my mind, I was saying, “When I grow up, I want that to be me, and taking my family to church.”
Bob: You got set on a new course. You, who “weren’t going to amount to anything,” wound up in community college; right?
Tyrone: Yes. At this point, I only had five goals in life: I wanted a house that had heat in the winter because I was tired of going to bed with my clothes on and socks on your hands. I wanted a house with air in the summer—if you’ve ever experienced triple-digit heat, it’s miserable—a house with no rats—and no roaches—and reliable transportation. I figured, if I went to this community college—everybody was stressing the importance of education—maybe, I’d have the opportunity to get those five things.
I would drive five miles, each way, in my wheelchair. I saw something, again—that I had never seen in my life—it was an African-American man, making money, using his mind. Again, when I saw that, it gave me hope that maybe I could be successful.
Bob: You went from community college to college—graduated from law school.
Tyrone: Yes, sir.
Bob: But there was something in your heart that kept pointing you back to the childhood you had had. Instead of going down and being a corporate lawyer somewhere, God had a different plan for you.
Tyrone: Once I got saved, I was adamant about finding: “What’s my purpose? What is it that You saved me for?” At the time, I wasn’t really clear on it. But, my senior year, I was required to do a paper. I decided to do it on the juvenile justice system. I figured it would be an easy “A,” which it was. [Laughter] The only other requirement for me was to make eight site visits to some of the facilities. I chose to go to some of the same facilities I was incarcerated in because it would be easy.
Three kids changed my life. One kid was young—14 years old. Eventually, I asked him what he was there for. He was there for murder. The circumstances surrounding that really bothered me because it was a situation that I could have easily been in.
Then there was another kid who was 360 pounds / 6’7”. Because of his height, they socially promoted him from middle school through high school. He didn’t know how to even tell time. Within ten minutes, I taught him how to tell time. That really bothered me—how many kids are in that same situation.
Then, lastly, there was this kid who was locked up in another facility that I was in. His story was that he grew up, middle class, and had all the things he wanted in life; but, at eighth grade, he realized his mother was a high-end prostitute. Because of that, he started going to school a little bit late because he was staying up late to avoid her activities. When he would get to school, they asked him, “Why are you late?” Obviously, he couldn’t share. He carried that burden with him from middle school all the way through high school. I was the only person that he had shared his story with.
From that point on, I realized: “This is something I want to do for the rest of my life—to give youth, who may not have that ability to be an advocate for themselves, and to be an advocate for them. [Applause]
Dennis: Tyrone, there are about 400,000 youth in the foster care system in our country right now—100,000 of whom are adoptable right now. I think there’s probably 10x to 20x children, who are orphans, but who are not in the foster care system. Comment on why you established Higher M-Pact and how you’re addressing the needs of those kids.
Bob: Yes, you talk about urban orphans—and it’s different than we think about orphans; right?
Tyrone: Exactly. One thing I realized, from my own experience—you’ve got a lot of kids out here who’ve got a lot of God-given talent. It’s just a matter of whether we’re going to go out there and reach them.
I realized I was one of those kids who fell through the cracks. When I really wanted someone to love me and accept me, was really through that middle school through high school age. I decided to target that population. I decided to work with the ones who are high-risk—not for the ones who are at-risk.
A lot of these kids—when I say “urban orphans”—when you think about a traditional orphan, they lose both of their parents by circumstances beyond their control and people come in and take care of them. But when I say “urban orphan,” you know—what’s the purpose of a parent?—parenting. A lot of our kids may have a parent in the home, but there’s no parenting going on. They’re basically raising themselves, but they don’t get a lot of the sympathy or empathy of a traditional orphan because most people assume that they’re just being disobedient—they don’t want to listen to their parents.
No, actually, they’re making more positive choices than their parents. So, we find those kids—acknowledge those kids—and support them.
The dilemma that they’re in is this—they can’t express everything that’s going on in the home because there are two ways a youth can be removed from his home—something that he does or something that the family’s doing. So, most of the kids I work with are not going to tell what their family’s going through—whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or abuse. They’re just going to absorb it, and keep moving, and try to make the best of it.
Dennis: Tyrone, I’m going to give you a giant megaphone right now. I want you to speak to the audience, listening to our broadcast. Challenge them to make a difference in the life of a child, who’s an orphan.
Tyrone: I truly believe that maybe 90 percent of Christians don’t know their God-given purpose. God has saved us for a specific purpose. Pursue that with everything that is in you!—because, to me, these kids need us.
Dennis: I introduced you as a hero. You are a man’s man—a courageous man. I just want to thank you for your courageous faith. [Applause]
Tyrone: Thank God—thank Him. [Applause]
Bob: Again, we’ve been listening to a conversation that was recorded back at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit in Chicago, earlier this year. If you’d like to find out more about the Christian Alliance for Orphans, and how you can get involved, or be a part of one of these upcoming summits—there’ll be another one in the spring of 2015—go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” There’s a link there for the Christian Alliance for Orphans website.
There’s also information about resources we have, here at FamilyLife, from Hope for Orphans®—resources designed to help you think through how you can be involved in orphan care—whether it’s through adoption, foster parenting, or supporting international orphan care through orphanages or outreaches internationally. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.”
When you click through to Hope for Orphans, you’ll find all of the resources we have available to help you decide how you can care for the needs of orphans in your community or in our world.
Let me also mention Hope for Orphans has a special event coming up in September. It’s an event called Rooted that is designed to help adoptive parents, who are experiencing some of the challenges that come with adoption. There’s more information about the Rooted conference, again, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” in the upper left-hand corner of the page; or call if you have any questions: 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, I’ve been sharing, this week, that we are about to wrap up our fiscal year, here at FamilyLife. We’re about to close the books on one year and start a brand-new year in September. As we head toward the finish line here, we are hoping that we can end this year in a healthy financial position so that we can start the new fiscal year in good shape.
We’ve had some friends, who have come along and said, “We’d like to help make that happen.” They have agreed that, this week, they will match any donation we receive, here at FamilyLife, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $100,000. It’s kind of our last push to the finish line—it’s a little extra incentive for you, perhaps, to consider going to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner that says, “I Care.” When you make a donation, that donation will unlock the matching funds that will double it—you make a $50 donation, and we’ll get $100-worth of benefit out of your gift.
So, would you consider, today, going to FamilyLifeToday.com and making a donation to help support this ministry? Again, click the link in the upper right-hand corner of our homepage at FamilyLifeToday.com. It’s the link that says, “I Care,”—you can make an online donation. You can call to make a donation—1-800-FL-TODAY. Or you can write a check and mail it to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.
Let me just say: “Thank you, again, for your support of this ministry and your partnership with us. We really do appreciate you.”
And we hope you’ll be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to meet Daniel Kaggwa. God is using Daniel and his wife in Rwanda in some pretty remarkable ways to launch a movement of orphan care providers in that country and Africa. We’ll hear that story tomorrow. I hope you can be here for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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