A Kid With Integrity

Hank Mattimore
Reproduced with Permission

True Story. I'm taking this tall Afro-American teenager out with me to help him look for a job. A friend had helped him with his resume and it looked pretty good except there was little to show for his work experience.

"Alonzo, that one paragraph, that's all you have?" "Yea, it is what it is," he replied. "Nothing else?" I inquired. Then Alonzo said, "My mom wanted me to put down that I had worked for her in her cleaning business. That would have made it sound a little better but" - he hesitated. "So why didn't you?" "Because it wasn't true." "In other words, it would have been a lie?" "Yep,"he answered.

We rode in silence for a while. Then, Alonzo glanced at me. "Did I do the right thing?" "Alonzo, what do you think?" "Yes, I feel that I did." he reflected. "Maybe nobody else would have found out I lied but I would have known."

Wow! Was I hearing things? Here is a kid who respected his word, a word, I might add, that did not from the mouth of an altar boy from an intact family but from a kid who had been around the block a few times. Alonzo is the progeny of a run away dad and an abusive mom. He was raised in a series of group homes and foster homes. He never even knew who his bio mom was until he was nearly fifteen years of age, only to find out that she is an addict and a drug dealer.

So how do you explain the honesty, the integrity of a kid like Alonzo? We think we know people but we don't. Somewhere, deep within the soul of this youth was a sense of character that I could not begin to explain. He didn't cheat, not because he was afraid to be caught but because he would not be true to himself. This young kid discovered something about life that manages to elude so many in our culture. When we lie, when we pretend to be someone we are not, we diminish ourselves.

I felt humbled to be in the presence of a young man like Alonzo. I thought to myself how many privileged kids would have hesitated to tell a little lie to get ahead? When you get down to it, we are all getting pretty dam blase about telling the truth aren't we? We may not admit we lie. We say we MISSPOKE, as though that's any different.

Our heroes betray us, whether John Edwards or Tiger Woods or hundreds like them, but a black teenage kid from a dysfunctional family stood head and shoulders above them all. "If I had lied no one else might have known but I would have known." Words like these are not the words of a boy but a man, a real man.

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