A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

August 26, 2014

Teach Them To Fish ....

     I am what you would call a pessimistic optimist.  I am no Pollyanna who sees the world through rose-colored glasses.  I know that my life on this earth is going to get worse before it gets better.  On the other hand, I absolutely know that the darkness in this world will never extinguish the Light.  And I relish the stories of people who refuse to give in to the defeatist and hopeless messages that inundate our social commentary.
     With all the negativity in the news, it's time we take a look at two men who are making a difference.  I saw a segment this last weekend on CBS Sunday Morning about Salemtown Skateboards, and want to share their story with you.
Will Anderson, Owner
     You might think that in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in American history, you would be crazy to think of starting a new business; especially in a low-income neighborhood called Salemtown, outside Nashville, TN.  But Will Anderson and Jacob Henley took their mixed bag of personal histories that include drug addiction; a Masters Degree in Divinity; and a lifelong love of skateboards, and became determined that they could make a difference.
     As their website says, Salemtown Board Company is a "story began with a dream to change our city, even just a little bit, through making beautiful skateboards. All of our boards are cut, shaped, finished and painted 100% by hand. They’re functional works of art that are built to be ridden hard just like the original sidewalk surfers. But they also help us create jobs for some of our high school- aged friends here in our neighborhood in Nashville, TN. That's why we do what we do."
     Henley makes it very clear that although he loves designing and making one-of-a-kind skateboards, his top priority is to mentor and inspire young people in Salemtown, a neighborhood where 70% of the kids grow up in homes without fathers.  During the dark years of his life, Henley frequented the inner-city projects and saw the depravity and brokenness that is a result of no fathers in the home, and no positive role models.  But it's obvious that Henley has seen the Light, and is a true believer in "loving thy neighbor" -- so much so, that when he decided to make a difference, he set up shop in the heart of Salemtown and, together with Anderson, his partner, they are reclaiming lives.
     Anderson will tell you that Salemtown Board Co. is selling "July in every month; the beach in any state; summer year-round; and the joy that I get from making and riding these boards."  But he will also tell you, "Until just about a year ago, the highest source of income was the government ... welfare."  He and Henley are trying to change that by teaching neighborhood kids about discipline and dedication to a craft.  At the shop, each of the boards is cut, sanded, painted and finished completely by hand and is branded with the signature Salemtown "S."
Kendrius Smith
     Anderson laments that it is easy for the average American to donate money or food, or give away school supplies to the downtrodden ... "but it's a lot harder to teach" -- in other words, what these kids need are people to get involved on a personal level; to shape lives.  As cliché as it might sound, Salemtown Board Co. is the embodiment of teaching these kids to fish, rather than giving them a fish.  I find it not only inspiring, but encouraging, to find this Biblical axiom going head to head with the entitlement/welfare system.
     That's exactly what Anderson and Henley are doing through their small company.  They only have a handful of employees, but young men like Kendrius Smith, and his fellow employee Brandon Smith, are not only getting the opportunity to work and earn a good salary (above minimum wage), but they are "learning to work"; which Anderson says, when added to "pride in doing good work" will help propel them to greater opportunities and achievements.
     In fact, through the mentorship offered by Anderson and Henley, Kendrius has discovered an interest in sports therapy.  As the company grows, the increase in profits will allow the owners to help Kendrius save up for college.
     Anderson and Henley don't think they can change the world with a skateboard company ... but they think their employees just might be able to accomplish that goal.  "If they're able to grow up to be men who can love their families and their communities, and we produce two of those ... then, that's worth it."
     And just think what this world could be if such hopelessness was replaced with encouragement ... one person at a time.  And notice the words that Anderson used in describing his hopes for Kendrius and Brandon ... "men who can love".  It's really that simple ... Love God and love your fellow man ... and just watch the Light triumph over the darkness!

1 Thessalonians 5:11   "Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing."

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