The Lesson of Charlie Jones

A Goal & a Little Help

Tino and Charlie
Charlie & Tino

There’s a lesson in Charlie Jones’s success. At least his success so far; Charlie’s only 15, a client in our Pathways program.

Last summer, Charlie spent some time in Juvenile Hall. He came home to life with his mom and sisters, to the neighborhood they call The Twenties, and other, more savage names that indicate all the blood that’s been shed on those blocks. On his release, he was referred to Youth ALIVE!’s Pathways program by his probation officer. Pathways intervention specialists take under their watchful wings young people transitioning out of incarceration. The client and the specialist spend time getting to know each other, figuring out what the young person needs to be successful in school, safe in life, and permanently free from the justice system.

By the time we met Charlie, he already knew what he wanted to do: play football. So we introduced him to Pathway’s Tino Ratliff, former NCAA wide receiver and, like the 6’2” Charlie, a tall person. Of course, those aren’t the only things Tino has going for him. More likely it’s his general positivity and good nature, along with his doggedness, that have helped spur Charlie on to good attendance, good grades and an outstanding year with Oakland High’s Junior Varsity football team.

Like a lot of 15-year-olds, Charlie’s a reluctant talker, but then suddenly he’ll take a breath and tell you something interesting and light up a little. He says his favorite class is English, that he likes writing essays, especially on things he knows about, like sports. He favorite books are about people who changed their lives. Charlie’s in the process of doing that right now. And there are lessons to learn for all of us, like have a dream, a goal you really care about. “Football really motivates me,” says Charlie. Another lesson: we all need some help in life. And not just when we are growing up. But perhaps especially then. For Charlie, help comes from his mom, his sister, from teachers who care, and from Tino.

“I can actually open up to Tino,” he says, “tell him stuff.” But Tino is more than an ear for Charlie. “Tino talked to me about what’s right, what’s the right thing to do. I listened and did it.” Still, Charlie’s biggest motivation is football.

“Being an athlete and a student keeps me busy and off the streets,” he says one morning sitting on a bench overlooking Oakland High’s playing field. “I want to be great.” Charlie says he is a leader. His leadership style is to push others, but not in a negative way. “If a guy messes up,” says Charlie, “don’t tell him how bad he did, but lift him up, bring them up.”

Charlie says his mom is proud of what he’s doing, but that she sees more potential. She thinks he should get higher grades.

While we are outside talking, a man passes by the bench and interrupts us. It’s Charlie’s PE teacher. He says a warm hello to Charlie and then, spontaneously, starts talking about how much Charlie has done to turn things around. “Charlie is really doing some good stuff,” he says. He’s not just talking about touchdowns and interceptions.