My word of the day, compliments of my friends at Dictionary.com, is phronesis (pronounced “froh-NEE-sis). It is a wonderful word that we should include in our daily prayers, asking God to mercifully instill phronesis within each of us in our every hour. It means “the wisdom in determining the ends and the means of attaining them, practical understanding, sound judgement.” Centuries ago, Aristotle, Plato and other heavy hitters used this word a lot when they would speak of “practical wisdom, and prudence in government and public affairs.” No, it isn’t to be found anywhere in the School Board’s Book of Knowledge but, if that is still a little heavy for you, know that nowadays phronesis -- boiled down -- means “You gotta’ know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run,” this courtesy of our pal Kenny Rogers and his hit tune, “The Gambler.”
Understand, for some phronesis is a far-away shore but for others, like Matt White who lives in Memphis, it is a prized blessing. I introduced you to Matt last summer and, while you’ve forgotten his name, chances are you remember his heart. I’ll never forget it because I pray for the phronesis Matt showed in a Kroger parking lot, and then regret I am going to make some of you cry. First, a recap from my story, “The Great Memphis Poverty:”
* * *
This is an excerpt of what I wrote on July 12, 2019:
It was in the roughest part of the city not long ago that Chauncy Jones Black, who is black and just turned 16 after a life of living in squalor, told his invalid grandmother he’d catch the late bus after he tried to get some food. Chauncy, with not so much as a dime in his pocket, had discovered if he’d use his bus pass, he could travel to “the rich people’s Kroger” and offer to do any kind of odd jobs for food.
Matt White, who is white and off to a heady start in the music business, happened to be coming out of the grocery store when he saw the boy approach him. Matt was wondering if this was a “beggar” or a stick-up by a desperate kid. What he saw was a broken boy, the victim of poverty and despair. Chauncy didn’t ask for money but wondered if he could do any menial job to work for food.
He told Matt he didn’t have long before the late bus would run but told Matt he would carry his groceries to the car for some donuts. “Matt was thinking … sure, dude … we’ll get you some donuts,” wrote Eric Sumner in a beautiful story at the time. As they walked through the store, Matt found out Chauncey had one set of clothes, that he made straight A’s in school, and that they defied all odds getting by on his mom’s meager disability check.
Matt then told Chauncey to put his donuts in a shopping cart and the two “newest friends,” started back through the store, beginning with aisle A-1. Fresh bananas, cereal, peanut butter, fruit, milk, cans of vegetables. As the cart got fuller, so did the incredulous Chauncey’s heart. Matt’s was already there but … wait, how is this 16-year-old kid going to get all of this on the bus. “Easy … I’ll drive you home.”
As Matt drove into the projects, he sensed that despite the 30 years he has spent on this earth, he had no way to prepare himself. There wasn’t a crumb or a scrap of food anywhere. What spartan living showed when Chauncy was prodded by Matt?
A couple of outdated chairs, a lamp on a side table. Somehow Chauncy and his mom had cut an old sleeping bag in half and those halves were their mattresses. On the floor was where they slept. Again, Chauncy had no other clothes so he would hand-wash every night. They had no telephone, no TV, and his mother’s illness – she would shake all the time – and medicine is expensive.
When Matt got into his car, he cried out to his Jesus – yep, Matt because of his Christianity was now grappling with new problems. At his age he hardly had the where with all, but he felt if he could share this amazing kid’s life, that might give Chauncy the recourse to make money. Matt was thinking a lawn mower and Chauncy’s personality alone would lead to further opportunities.
Matt even got a plan to go to the White House and to be a guest with Ellen DeGeneres. “I don’t deserve this… not at all, but the fact somebody cares about me is everything.”
* * *
Do you remember this story? Ellen DeGeneres really got into it, as did People magazine, CNN, and – get this -- more than 15,000 people who donated over $350,000 to Chauncy Black and his invalid grandmother. But remember, this was 2016. Now let’s jump to 2020, the 4th day of January to be precise.
The money was put in a trust and a big chunk of it moved Chauncy Black and his family out of the projects to the Memphis suburb of Cordova. Within a year the hopes and dreams of all of us began to go dizzy. According to the Shelby County Sheriff’s office, officers have responded to the home that was gifted by strangers 53 times between 2017 and what happened on January 4.
That’s when Chauncy Black and his brother Tim returned gunfire at drive-by shooters. As the brothers shot back, a promising 26-year-old who was relatively new to the neighborhood and the police report identified as “an innocent bystander,” was shot and killed by a bullet believed to have been fired by Chauncy Black’s .40-caliber handgun. Chauncy, age 18, has been charged with second-degree murder. Chauncy’s brother and two others have been charged with lesser, yet serious, crimes.
What will make you weep is that the victim was one of us. He was so full of promise, so eager to begin a family after graduating from the University of Tennessee. He was popular, handsome, and a delight as he was remembered by faculty and many friends alike at a Hamilton County high school when he was laid to rest last month. I have opted not to reveal his name out of respect to his devastated family, his mourning church members, and more particularly to honor a distraught Matt White, a guy in Memphis who was acting as a Christian the night he went “over and beyond” for a black kid who wanted some doughnuts.
Because I believe as I do, in comparatively no time will the victim’s family spend eternity with their son. I also believe there is a reward in heaven for when Matt White gets there – it’s nigh impossible to make a mistake when we reach out as Christ showed us. I even believe that Chauncy Black, despite how he has now shattered far more than a dream come true, will one day have a chance to ask forgiveness and prove why those of us on earth must never waver in our quest for forgiveness on behalf of “the very worst among us.”
It is rare that helping ever hurts, and that’s why the agony is all the deeper and much more raw, but there is not a soul who is mentioned in this story who wouldn’t urge us to try a little harder. In the game of life, the great players like Matt White seek only the victories. Pray that we should be so lucky if presented a like opportunity.