THE BLOG

A Story About 'Rich' People

09/19/2012 09:38 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2012

"That blew my mind. I had no idea that rich people actually cared about poor people, about their community. I had no idea that something like SVP existed."

There is so much in that statement that you can wrap your brain, and heart, around for hours. I still do. Those words came from Irving Severino, a student at www.yearup.org in Seattle, when he was riding home after our June 5 spring meeting with SVP Partners Lisa Chin, Year Up's ED, and Ali Friedman, their director of development. Lisa, my former board chair, brings a few students to many of our semi-annual meetings. Ali relayed Irving's comments to me the next day and I couldn't get it out of my head. A few days later I just decided I had to go have a cup of coffee with Irving at Street Bean and try to understand a lot of questions.

What does it mean to be "rich" or "poor" in this country? Why did a smart young man think "rich" people didn't care? And who is Irving? He told me he grew up believing "you either get it or you get thrown out on the street." People looked down on him his whole life. So that starts to answer one of my questions... He went to Stadium High in Tacoma and was a "terrible student" (his words). He went on to technical school and barely missed getting his diploma and then spent the next three months playing video games.

Where does a young man go from there? Eventually he decided to try Bellevue College and it "expanded his mind and woke him up." He began to believe he really wanted to get somewhere, which is about the time Year Up came along and really helped him begin to get somewhere. And a whole lot further someday, if I don't miss my guess. Year Up began to help him crush that "depressing delusion that people in power don't care." At this point in our conversation over coffee, I sort of got out of Irving's way ...

... He went on to explain that he wants to be a part of social change now. He wishes people would have reached out to him sooner and now he wants to be the one to reach out to "poor" people. In his mind, up through high school, you don't get much critical thinking, just what's in the lesson plan; he sees an educational system that is flawed where, in fact, things are supposed to balance out, but it messes up everyone's potential (one student's experience).

Where does he want to go from here? He sees himself an innovator, less of a worker. He is interested in nanotechnology and silicon photonics (yes, you can look that one up, I didn't know what it meant either). He also wants to get involved in his community, maybe in politics someday, and doesn't want to wait until he is old (that hurt!) to do it.

If in some small way, our spring meeting served to help change the worldview of a young man, even a little bit, that is powerful. And everyone there that night played a small part in what he saw and felt. We talk a lot about connections at SVP, but this was a whole new kind of connection I hadn't even thought of. Thanks for attending, Irving.

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I wrote everything above with Irving's input, edits and full approval. When he sent back the last draft, Irving wondered what I'd think about adding these words, directly from him:

Members of an organization such as SVP are citizens actively finding ways to better our society for good. To me, the United States as it is today is one giant social experiment, and an opportunity to challenge and grow from the mistakes of our ancestors. We have the most diversified population of people on the globe, which has brought multiculturalism to its peak, which in turn, allows our society to be a role model of peace and sustainability for the rest of the world. People who fight for the good of others are most fortunate because that karma will follow their family for generations to come. Continue to serve your society for the better, and through your actions, you will teach and inspire others to do the same. I believe that your actions contribute to the foundation of humanism that our country so desperately needs.