This reflection was written in response to the Winter 2015 immersion course during which we traveled to North Carolina to join the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Moral March and learn from the North Carolina NAACP and the Forward Together Movement.
Last week, I was texting with my little brother and he told me that he was “struggling but still putting up a good fight.” He told me he was “behind on his rent” and that he was “Tired. So tired.”
He’s tired because his sales numbers are low. He is a salesman for a household products company. He puts on 8-12 shows a day in Walmart’s, K-Mart’s and Sam’s Club’s across North Carolina. Between shows he recruits his audience and entices them with a free coupon. During the show he sells them on the “finest cutlery” they will ever come to own and on why the $50 dollar investment is a steal. Some days he sells a bunch of these packs and some days he doesn’t. The days he doesn’t are pretty tough, given that he gets paid on commission. When he doesn’t get paid he has to choose between saving the money he has to fill his tank (in order to get back to the store the next day) or have dinner with his wife.
When he’s running on empty, his company offers him an advance and tells him that they will simply take it out of the next pay check. However, he’s explained to me that these advances only keep him in a hole because he can’t get Walmart, K-Mart and Sam’s Club’s shoppers to consistently buy his knives. I gather that these shoppers are inconsistent because they are amongst the many working poor in our country – just like him.
So he’s tired. So tired.
When he’s not dejected, he dreams. He dreams of stability. He dreams of being a journalist, or a TV salesman, or a regional director, or a novelist, or a heavy machinery operator, or secret service. He dreams of having children. He dreams of providing for his wife so that she can become an interior designer. When he’s not tired, he dreams of not being in a hole.
But he is.
Sometimes I try to push him to see things differently – to take a risk and make the choice of going to school (he’s still got a couple years left on his GI Bill). But most of the time I sit and listen and echo his, “you know, I just got to do what I’ve got to do to make sure we’ve got a roof and food.” Sometimes, he doesn’t have either of those.
I’m not sure what kind of social services he could tap into but he wouldn’t be interested in them anyways. He doesn’t believe that the government should provide anyone with hand outs. He doesn’t believe that health care should be available to everyone. He believes that every “man” should take care of his own. He believes that every “man” reaps what he sows.
This ideology is what makes his exhaustion extra hard. It’s not enough that he struggles to sell his products and make enough money to pay for food, gas, rent and maintain his relationship; it is also his own fault – no own is to blame but him. Jim is 24 and his wife is 20. What is going to come of their story? How can I help? How can we?