We wait in the line of thousands of people at the Recreation Center in East Long Beach, California. Young men, women, children, the elderly and disabled stand in a queue in the hopes of receiving a package of free government cheese.
As I wait with the other impoverished welfare recipients, I take a few food stamps from my pocket and smile optimistically. In the slums, food stamps are a necessity for survival similar to water and air. Without food stamps and welfare, many of us would die of starvation and undernourishment.
One woman in our neighborhood--which we call 'American Afghanistan' or 'Ameristan' for short--named Mrs. Broomheld* is known to collect and eat cockroaches and rats. When she's desperate for food, she goes to King's Pet Shop where she buys a dozen white mice for less than five dollars. Mrs. Broomheld fries the mice and eats them along with okra, collard greens, and an instant drink known as Tang.
I see Mrs. Broomheld in the free government cheese line wearing her wig and heavy make up. An evangelical Christian, she is a big fan of Tammy Fay Bakker.
"Praise the Lord ma'am," I say as I extend my hand to greet her.
"Boy, the Lord has provided us with a miracle with this free government cheese," Mrs. Broomheld responds.
After collecting our free cheese, Mrs. Broomheld and I return to her small apartment near Anaheim Street. She and I sit down for a meal of fried mice and melted cheese. Since all I know is poverty, it is not at all disgusting to eat mice. My instinct is to survive. I must stay alive at all costs.
Now, more than thirty years since eating the free cheese with Mrs. Broomheld in the hood, I find that I am still desperately seeking the American Dream. I long to be financially secure while living in a safe and secure community. When I lie in bed at night, I feel dismayed by poverty and marginalization.
When I close my eyes at night to sleep, I dream of a new reality in which Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his equally impressive wife Melinda French Gates are my parents. I imagine that I was born and raised in a wealthy family, attended elite private schools such as Choate Rosemary Hall, and have a multi-million dollar trust fund.
The nightmare of being a war child in the nightmarish and violence-filled American slums is too stressful for me to live with and accept.
On June 21st, 2015, I took my "from hood to good" fantasy to another level. I had my right forearm permanently tattooed with the names Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates along with the dates of their births.
I was born into an American nightmare of poverty, high crime, prostitution, crack addicts walking around like the walking dead, urine and defecated upon alleyways, welfare checks, food stamps, and broken homes.
Now I consider myself to be a 'figurative adoptive son' of Bill and Melinda Gates. I can now begin the process of healing from the extreme poverty into which I was born and raised.
Not only am I inspired by the wealth of Bill and Melinda Gates, but I am moved by the philanthropy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By helping others, the Gates family is changing the world for the better.
Once I survived by utilizing food stamps and eating free government cheese, now I am ennobled and honored to live a better life and help others who suffer in extreme poverty.
I encourage people around the world to support the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This essay is dedicated to Bill and Melinda French Gates and to the Gates family.
*The late Mrs. Broomheld's name has been changed to protect her identity.