Roy Exum: Earn Life's "Free Lunches"

Thursday, May 13, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The worst debacle in our nation’s history, it is beginning to be proven, was when the United States was quarantined during the COVID-19 epidemic. Our economy – from employment to production – was stymied. Our next generation responded with virtually no education for an entire year and a surging teen suicide epidemic and the biggest profits that were made in the second half of 2020 were by our southern importers – the Mexican drug cartels. Illicit drug use in America is at an all-time high.

So, as we begin to ditch the loathed face masks and have to back away from a $300 unemployment benefit because too many who should be working are conning the system, what in the world drew the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce into a frivolous “diversity pledge? With only 68 signatures leading us to believe that over 2,400 Chamber members are embarrassed, and that each is therefore “biased and racist” because they didn’t sign the ridiculous “pledge,” let's confront adversity with the only thing that will really work.

As a child of the South, I’ve witnessed segregation, which none of us will allow ever again. I’ve also seen blacks and whites come together in the greatest equalizer of skin color ever – sports – and I have seen how a cross section of wealth and poverty are negated, how blacks and whites who work intensely hard together will win as the best team, and the only real “equity” in each game is the rules.

The great divide in sports comes during high school. If you don’t develop into the best at your position, your dream will die without doing the extras. Ordinary high school kids don’t lift weights, run at 5 a.m., memorize playbooks and sacrifice in 96-degree late-summer fun for just a chance. Oh, this isn’t to say sports is the only road, one who hustles and pays the price can work after school, practice the tuba with the marching band, volunteer at nursing homes, hospitals, be an intern at Unum for free … there are hundreds of ways to “be better.”

It’s the winner who grabs the prize, the achiever. Excel in high school, you “play on Saturday” in college, excel in college, you “play on Sunday” - color, nor “diversity” has naught to do with any achievement.  Losers have trouble with facts. Diversity? Get this true and straight – nobody owes skin color a thing other than mutual respect and equal admiration.

The truth is no business owner is going to hire a worker based on skin color over another with better ability. Listen, the toughest awakening for a child of poverty is the day the free lunches stop. Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama – the three states in our Tri-State region, just announced they are opting out of the $300/week unemployment bonus. Watch how those affected respond and act over the loss of that type of “free lunch;” the whiners have already started.

Now, go with me another step: There are 43,000 children who are served by the Hamilton County Department of Education. It is believed well over half, say 22,000, are on “free lunch.” I am not about to fault that – a hungry child is inexcusable. But I wish our school district had “incentive lunch, ice cream added.” This is where an “incentive lunch” should be bartered, a method where every child could earn lunch …. say with 45-minutes of reading, 30 minutes of “gym” (calisthenics), an hour tutoring, “work crew,” something positive to teach when one earns a meal, it tastes better. Earn your reward.

The Hamilton County Department of Education badly misses the boat by not having an employment department at area high schools that would pair up after-school workers with a multitude of after-school and summer jobs. Need your grass cut, your leaves raked, your poodle walked? Grocery stores, where shoppers hit hard after work, need bagging help, groceries walked to the car, shelves restocked in peak times of the day, buggies returned, “a cleanup on aisle 3,” however a student can be taught and learn to make a difference. From it we urge students to join the work force, earning a full-time summer job and an honest referral.

I worry that we are teaching over half of our students to “expect” free lunch when instead we should urge our young to earn every rung up the ladder. because … it’s true … in every noble pursuit the trophy is earned, never given, never free.

* * *

There is a funny story about the zookeeper who one day noticed the smartest money was deep in study of two books simultaneously. One book was the Holy Bible, the other Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.” The zookeeper could not resist. “Mr. Monkey,” he asked, “whatever are you doing trying to compare those two books?

"Well," said the monkey, "I just wanted to know if I am ‘my brother's keeper’ or ‘my keeper's brother’?"

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