Four young teens took their turn Monday to stand before the Cleveland City Council. One by one, each told stories of children who wanted to give up; of children who masked hurt and anger behind smiles; and of children who lived in motel rooms with their parents and siblings.
They told of children whose father never came home from work; and of children who found parents lying on the floor after a drug overdose.
Clifton Biddwell, Richard Burke, Teyahna Woods and Meeri Shin each told stories that could only come from the horror section of the public library — stories most parents would not let their children read — but stories in which their parents were the tragic figures and the four teens who stood before the Council were the heroes and heroines.
Sequels are already being written. Meeri’s story continues as she prepares to represent the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland in the state Youth of the Year competition. The plot is to win the national title. The climax is to visit President Barack Obama in the White House. The last chapter ends in another happy ending for the heroine.
But, Meeri’s story began Monday with a poem titled “The Apology” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Think me not unkind and rude,
That I walk alone in grove and glen;
I go to the god of the wood
To fetch his word to men.
Tax not my sloth that I
Fold my arms beside the brook;
Each cloud that floated in the sky
Writes a letter in my book.
Chide me not, laborious band,
For the idle flowers I brought;
Every aster in my hand
Goes home loaded with a thought.
There was never mystery,
But 'tis figured in the flowers,
Was never secret history,
But birds tell it in the bowers.
One harvest from thy field
Homeward brought the oxen strong;
A second crop thine acres yield,
Which I gather in a song,” the poem ended.
“Good afternoon,” she continued. “My name is Meeri Shin and I am currently a senior at Walker Valley High School.
“l am sorry — three words so overused that they have become a mundane response at best. Apologies were all that was left in me though. Broken and shattered, all I could do was apologize for never being good enough until there were no more tears to cry.
“But for all of the apologies that I spoke, I never got to say the ones that would mean the most: the ones for my father. I never got to say, ‘I’m sorry, Daddy.’
“I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough. I’m sorry I never lived up to your expectations. I’m sorry I wasn’t enough for you to stay.
“You see, my father left when I was in the fifth grade. He left me, my mom, my brother and my sister for a prosperous business opportunity, that actually was not that prosperous.
“He left my family in shambles. I have not spoken to my father in two years.
“As the oldest of three children, I felt an obligation to be strong. My brother would cry every night, begging my dad to come home. He has cerebral palsy. He can’t walk and he’s currently 14 years old. He thought maybe if he learned how to walk, maybe if he was better, my dad would come home.
“Every night, I heard the pain of my sister.
“Every night, I had this doubt that I was worth being.
“Not only did I have to deal with the financial and emotional strains of my dad leaving, but I also had to find a way to cope with the constant bullying at school. I was one of two Asians at my high school, the other being my sister. Acceptance and belonging was a difficult task. I was trying to stay afloat, but the weight of the world was drowning me, letting me sink. Frankly, I was tired.
“At the tender age of 11, I was introduced to the Boys & Girls Club. They saw me as a wandering soul and embraced me with loving arms,” she said.
The Boys & Girls Clubs was an angel to help guide her and put the pieces of her life back together. Through the club, she has learned of giving hope and giving love. She learned to treat others with respect and how to open herself up in spite of the fear of rejection and humiliation.
“I even learned how to do my own laundry,” she said.
Meeri is an active volunteer at all seven units of the Boys & Girls Clubs. She has transferred the skills she learned at the club to her school, where she serves in leadership roles and participates in athletics. She maintains her grades while participating in 23 extracurricular activities.
“I stand before you now with only one apology left,” she said. “I am sorry, Dad, that you couldn’t see the greatness that I could become.”
She said “The Apology” by Ralph Waldo Emerson was not really an apology, but a declaration that he refuses to be sorry for who he is, and the positive actions he took to make him who he was.
“So today, I don’t apologize for not being good enough or not being worth anyone’s time. Instead, I am thankful and humble and grateful for the position I am in,” she concluded.