A couple of years ago I saw a story of brotherhood on ESPN that truly moved me. It’s the story of Dartanyon Crockett and Leroy Sutton. They two young men have had more than their fair share of troubles to over come. Dartanyon was born legally blind, and Leroy lost both of his lower legs when he slipped and fell underneath a moving train. The story of these two young men is moving in itself, but the story after and within the story is even more powerful. The reports producer, Lisa Fenn, found herself drawn to these two young men, and came to love them. She stayed with them, quitting her job at ESPN, to help these two young men from the wrong side of Cleveland to make it out of their tough situation. Watch this 12 minute clip of the original story. Have some tissues handy.
Lisa recently wrote a follow-up story for ESPN, with an accompanying video piece, and there is so much in here about grace and love that it is impossible to not be moved by it. She talks about how hard it was at first to understand the world of these two young African-American men.
I found this difficult at first, because I grew up on the other side of Cleveland. The white side. Though I was raised just eight miles west of Lincoln, my parents scrounged up the money for private school to protect me from the public schools and “those people.” Through all of their summer yard sales and side jobs, I silently wondered what was so bad about the people “over there” to prompt their determination. Now I realized their internal discomfort was probably akin to the visible uneasiness I wore standing in Lincoln’s halls. Small, shy, blonde and studious, I would not have survived a week.
But Dartanyon and Leroy eased me in graciously. As we filmed over the course of five months, I tagged along to their classes, to their practices and on team bus rides. They taught me their lingo and poked fun when I tried to use it. They opened up about their struggles — Dartanyon with great eagerness, as I think he had waited his entire life for someone to want to know him, to truly see him. Leroy’s revelations emerged more reluctantly. He had been emotionally abandoned too many times before. But sharing his past began a type of therapy for him. Both began to believe that, perhaps, I genuinely cared.
At some point, Lisa crossed over and this story became more than just a story. She allowed herself to see Dartanyon and Leroy as people deserving of compassion simply because they were people. I don’t know if Lisa is a Christian, but I’ve got to say, that’s about as Christian as you can get.
After the wrestling season, Dartanyon and Leroy competed in power lifting. Leroy held the Ohio state record in bench press, Dartanyon in dead lift. Immediately following his conference power-lifting-championship win in April 2009, Dartanyon discovered that all of his belongings had been taken from the bleachers. Stolen along with them was his right to celebrate. Every victory in his life was ripped from him before he could even taste it.
That week, I drove Dartanyon around town to replace his lost items. A new bus pass. Another cell phone. A trip to the social security office for a state ID, which required a birth certificate, which had been confiscated during his dad’s last eviction. His was a cruel world, even for a sighted person. How he endured it in shadows baffled me. I paid for all of his items, arguably crossing a journalistic line. But this was quickly becoming less about a story and all about soothing the suffering. Dartanyon later told me it was during that week of errands that he grew convinced God placed me into his life for reasons beyond television, that no one else would have taken the time and money to help him in those ways.
Lisa hoped that her work would bring a ray of hope into the lives of these young men, that some one, some where would be moved with compassion.
I stayed because my heart was too heavy for my legs to walk away. Dark clouds hung over every turn of Dartanyon’s and Leroy’s lives, and I found myself pleading with the heavens to end this madness.
That summer, I feverishly edited “Carry On,” praying that just one viewer would be moved to help these boys in meaningful ways. But instead, following its August airings, hundreds emerged! Emails from Africa to England, from Idaho to Ipswich flooded my inbox, every viewer offering money and sharing personal accounts of how this extraordinary friendship shook their souls awake. Dartanyon and Leroy were no longer invisible. Their plights mattered to a world inspired. I curled up on my kitchen floor and wept.
Then there is this exchange…
In the month that followed, I personally responded to nearly 1,000 emails, not wanting to miss out on a blessing. Round the clock I harnessed donations, vetted speaking invitations, deciphered financial aid forms, coordinated college visits and ensured Dartanyon and Leroy were finally fed on a daily basis. Each time I shared exciting new developments with them, Dartanyon gushed with thank-yous and hugs, broad grins and relieved exhales. But Leroy’s stoic posture never budged. “Leroy, if at any point you don’t want this, you need to speak up,” I said. “The last thing I want is to inflict my desires on you.”
“No, it’s all good,” he said.
“But usually, when it’s ‘all good,’ people smile or say something,” I said. “Each time I call you with good news, you are so quiet. I’m not even sure you’re on the line.”
“No one’s ever called me with good news before,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”
He once told me that Christmas was his least favorite holiday because his mom wrapped up Bazooka bubble gum and toys from around the house, hoping he wouldn’t notice. Having never known pleasure, he had not developed the language to respond to it. “But I am happy inside,” he added. “My dreams might come true.”
I stayed because I vowed right then to fill Leroy’s life with a thousand good things until he simply burst with joy.
Lisa Fenn saw through all the mess, and she saw these young men – one blind, one legless – for what they are: people made in God’s image with all the dignity that comes with that. How did she react? She served them. She loved them. They worked hard, but she cleared the way for them.
Those who know the story behind this story heap a lot of credit onto me for dedicating my past four years to improving Dartanyon’s and Leroy’s lives. Indeed, I have spent thousands of hours removing obstacles from the paths of their dreams, providing for their needs, reprogramming poorly learned habits, exposing new horizons and piling on the encouragement they need to rise above. I drove Dartanyon to the dentist to drill the first of 15 cavities. I taught Leroy how to pay a bill. I sat with Dartanyon at the social security office to apply for disability benefits, something he could have received all his life had anyone submitted the forms for him. I soothed the burn of Leroy’s broken heart and phantom limbs. And through it all, we grew into an eclectic family of our own. We carried on.
When he made a visit to the eye doctor in 2009, I asked Dartanyon to include me on the consent form so I could access his records if need be.
Later that day, I received a call from the office administrator. “I just thought you should know what Dartanyon wrote on his consent form today,” she said, somewhat undone. “Next to your name, on the release, is a space that says ‘Relationship to Patient.’ Dartanyon wrote ‘Guardian Angel.'”
I stayed because we get only one life, and we don’t truly live it until we give it away.
I stayed because we can change the world only when we enter into another’s world.
I stayed because I love you.
Powerful stuff here, folks.
Lisa Fenn’s full article can be read here.