RECLAIMING HOPE | Hope is the starting point for Urban Homeworks, the force that brings together low-income families, young professionals, job skill trainees, and volunteers from all walks of life into an exchange that restores homes and creates a space for neighbors to engage.
The following is a transcript of the powerful story of hope and redemption shared by David Morris at Urban Homeworks' 2016 Perpetuate the Hope Luncheon:
My name is David Morris. Also known as R41216 or 239354 by the penal code.
What does that mean? It means I have a criminal past. I have sold drugs and I have been caught drinking and driving. I have made mistakes. Nevertheless, I haven’t let my trials and tribulations define me. Did I make the best choices? No. Was there a blessing or something good that came out of my trials? Yes.
I come from a place where opportunities come few and far between. I never thought I would be in the position I am in: that I would have the ability to use my voice for those that cannot speak; to be the voice for those whose hands are in shackles, the law has them by the balls, and thus they will never get out of The System.
I grew up in Chicago and the only thing I graduated from was kindergarten. My mom didn’t want custody of me and I never knew my dad. I lived with my grandmother until her passing at age 9. When I was 10, I was kicked out of my guardian’s house. As far back as I can remember, I bounced from home to home until my late teens. At one point, I had been through 9 schools in a period of 4 years. With no family, I tried to find my mom. During that process, I encountered Thomas Dixson. While mentoring me at age 11, he learned I was homeless and opened his doors to me. He became my father. In an effort to reconnect with my mom, I followed my mom to multiple states only to return back to Chicago. I grew up isolated, punished and pushed out. By 16, I’d had my first child and at 17, I was serving time.
After serving 3.5 years for a drug conspiracy (17-21), I was determined to start making better decisions. One of the best decisions was moving to Minneapolis in 2009. When I made it here, I wanted better for my life.
I literally started from the bottom by going to M.N.I.C. Unity School to get my G.E.D. At 22, going to school with really young kids really humbled me, but I was determined to right my wrongs – not only for my kids, but to help my community as well.
I interned with Tree Trust and Urban Homeworks and started preparing for the G.E.D. test. Then, 4 great things happened in January 2010:
1) I received my G.E.D.,
2) I started a Business Management class at Minneapolis Community and Technical College,
3) I graduated from my internship early, and
4) I landed two jobs.
I was so proud of myself! Amazingly, Steve Walden (a Project Manager on one of my Tree Trust sites) had noticed my work ethic and loved it. He formally introduced me to Russ Barclay at Urban Homeworks (UHW), and I was hired on staff as a Crew Leader through Americorp that summer!
As I was working one summer day in 2012, Ryan Companies and the owner, Pat Ryan, came to volunteer at one of the Urban Homeworks sites. Pat Ryan enjoyed his experience so much that he invited me to lunch with him as a thank you. He took time to really learn my story and get to know me. One thing that stood out from our conversation: He was interested in sponsoring me to join the union!
At this point in my journey, I still had the street mentality frame of mind (loyalty over royalty). I discussed the pros and cons with UHW and they encouraged me to go and experience carpentry at its best in the union. It was hard to leave my UHW family, but I was happy when I started seeing those checks. I quickly became a cocky 23 year old kid that mentally wasn’t ready for making that type of money. With a drug background, all I knew at the time was how to blow it all– saving never even registered to me – after rent was paid, everything that came in went right back out. I started partying hard, drinking and driving, and not caring or being as driven as I once was. In 2013 after being laid off, I ended up getting locked up for a DUI because of my recklessness.
Wow, that humbled me again. This time I lost so much. I felt ashamed, stupid and lonely. I felt like life was over. But in this moment of shame, there were two defining moments that propelled me forward and transformed my life.
First, one day while I was in my cell, I received a visit from Russ Barclay. He could not stay long, but he made the 1.5 hour drive to deliver a message I would never forget “You are not alone. I love you brother. I am in your corner.” Wow, this man took 5 hours out of his busy day to deliver a 5 minute conversation to me. It made me cry to know I finally had a support system.
The second defining moment came after my incarceration. Bob Haberkorn is one of my closest friends and a volunteer at Urban Homeworks. When I was a Crew Leader, I worked beside him several days a week and I began to see him as a Granddad and his wife, Ms. Pat, as a Grandma. Especially since I lost mine at an early age. I was at a halfway house and working at Burger King in Brooklyn Center. One day, Bob came to see me at work and he asked me, “Have you hit your rock bottom yet?” I finally realized I had. I told him “I regret leaving UHW because it was not just an organization or a job, but a family and I left my family.” He told me he was still in my corner.
Soon after my encounter with Bob, I was informed that another Crew Leader position had opened up at UHW. I was excited but I also knew that I was running out of lifelines. Still, I applied and got the position! This time I knew I had to stay humble and driven. But I also knew that, I had a family behind me, supporting me.
I’ve been back with Urban Homeworks now for over 2 years. I am a resident, I am a staff member, and I am a leader. I’ve been taking on different roles in this organization, constantly wanting to learn more and do more to help those that have a similar story as mine. I’ve been encouraged and promoted and now walk with families that are trying to find housing. I am now a voice for those that want to change and are straddling the fence, but still looking for that one good opportunity.
I have been denied housing for many reasons - too many times to count. I always hear: “You have enough income, but you have a drug conviction from 4 years ago.” Or “hey, I want to give you a job, but you don’t have any experience”. Even better, I hear: “We want to give you the assistance, but you make enough”! How? I’m a father still trying to improve and yet a lot of doors are still closed to me.
I decided I wanted better for my life and my kids lives. Hell, I want to be a guiding light for the youth that don’t have a mom or dad, or their parents are on drugs, or they are just not there. Not having family there; I know the feeling. I also learned that there are people out there that do care authentically. For me those people were Russ, Steve, Chad, Pat Ryan, Thomas, Bob and Ms. Pat Haberkorn. They are my support system. UHW is my family. This relationship for me wasn’t just about construction, an internship, a place to stay, or even a job – it was an entire network of support that showed me who I truly am – who I have the power to become – and what that means for my family and my community.
As me and UHM walk together as a family, our doors are open for you to become our extended family. Thank you.
David Morris, Urban Homeworks Portfolio Management Administrator
Mr. Pat Ryan shared a parallel story from his journey with David. His story took a powerful turn that you won't want to miss. Click here to read "Hell is Full of Good Intentions".