Mr. Tyrone Flowers: I was in a juvenile system after going through the foster care for three years and reformatory schools, state hospitals. And all of a sudden, I’m at this reformatory school. And I was going through the meal line. And this beautiful African-American lady looked at me and smiled – that smile like the social worker – and said, you remind me of my son. (Jim: Wow) And at that moment, it was the first time I felt like I had a mother…
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John Fuller: Hm, well that’s Tyrone Flowers, and he knows firsthand about the challenges that at-risk children face in our culture today. He’s our guest, and you’re going hear his remarkable story and the unique mentoring ministry that he has for at-risk kids on today’s edition of Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I can resonate with some of what Tyrone has experienced but only some of it. I mean, he had a – an incredible upbringing in a very tough way. Uh, my parents divorced when I was young. Many of you know that story. And, uh, my father really was never a big part of my life. My mother died when I was nine. And my siblings, uh, and I were suddenly orphans, and we went into foster care. And that was a mess. I was there for a year, reunited with my father, and then he passed away. And then I lived with my brother, who was only 19, and that’s pretty much how I did high school.
Tyrone: Oh wow.
Jim: More and more, uh, that is the experience of children today. And it’s so unfortunate – the breakdown of family, the different things that are tearing families apart. I could remember I was different back then. Today, that’s more normative. And it’s so unfortunate. Uh, we’re going to hear from someone who has lived it and is now reaching back into communities to help these at-risk children feel loved, to do better, to know that there is a God that loves them. And there are his servants who love them as well because of Christ.
John: Yeah, and Tyrone is very engaged. Um, there are at-risk kids in every neighborhood and community. And, uh, he wants to help lift your eyes up to see what you might do to help them. Uh, he started the ministry called Higher M-Pact. And, uh, that was founded in 1993. And the organization helps identify high-risk urban kids in the Kansas City, Missouri, area and gives them basic skills, training, mentoring, spiritual discipline and really shows them their potential as future leaders. And you’re going to hear Tyrone’s heart for that work and why he has that heart today.
Jim: Tyrone, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Tyrone: Thank you, guys. This is truly a blessing.
Jim: We’re going to get to your story. But first, the two of us, we have experienced some tough things. But when you get right down to it, what do these children need more than anything?
Tyrone: To me, it’s all about relationship. I mean, at the end of the day, the kids need to know that they have a purpose on this earth. There is a reason why we all go through what we go through. But it’s just being able to look in someone’s eyes and say why am I here, and do you accept me for who I am? And that means everything that comes…
Tyrone: …With me. Accept them right where they’re at in that particular moment. And we have found that when you accept them right where they’re at, they open up.
Jim: Well, and I love that idea of hope…
Jim: …You know, that it gives them hope.
Jim: Relationship brings hope.
Jim: When people care about you, you feel hopeful – that someone even notices me. I can remember that with the social worker that came to visit when I was 9 to that foster care family I was with. And it was not a good situation. She simply had a smile on her face. And it communicated to me that I understand what you’re going through.
Jim: Just the smile on her face – it was a confidence that she gave me that I was OK – I was right that… to be concerned about what was going on.
Tyrone: And you hit it on the head – attitude. A lot of times when we’re working with these young people, you can have the right answer. You can be in a right position. But sometimes their attitude in the process – because you don’t want to be around nobody that has, you know, not necessarily negative, but just not really open. But those smiles, they’ll do wonders…
Jim: They make a difference, don’t they?
Tyrone: It makes a difference.
Jim: And, you know, for the person that is the adult, they – I don’t even think they understand the power of that smile…
Jim: …And that confidence that they portray…
Jim: …That a child can hang onto. We do it as adults now without even thinking about it. But when you’re engaged with a high-risk child, those are the small things that are very big to them.
Tyrone: Exactly. Because the thing about it is what’s traditional to the masses is not traditional to them. You grew up in an environment to where smiling is not a positive because you’ve got to have this image.
John: Is it a sign of weakness?
Tyrone: You got to stay on the defense. You don’t want to seem vulnerable.
Tyrone: And because there’s always people around you. It may not be life or death within your home, but it may be over a meal.
Tyrone: It may be over what you’re going to wear tomorrow. It may be over a small opportunity. Now you have issues with your own family members, or you’re a child that’s in a foster care system with you, or the juvenile justice system with you. But then that continues to just…
Tyrone: …Deal with it.
Jim: And let me say, too, I mean, there are so many great foster families.
Jim: And, uh, we have done fostering, so I’m hopeful that we’re one of those good ones! (laughter)
Jim: And, uh, I would encourage people to engage Focus on the Family in that way. We have a wonderful program called Wait No More. And, uh, it is geared to helping, particularly the church community, awaken to this need; foster care, foster wraparound – respite care we call it, which is really grand-parenting – taking the kids on a weekend and that.
Tyrone, let’s move to Higher M-Pact. What’s the typical picture – paint it for us – of the kids, as we call them, at-risk? What does that child look like? What’s a portrait of that child?
Tyrone: Well, a typical Higher M-Pact kid, we try to take it to that next level because you have a lot of good kids in bad situations. And a lot of times, if you’re a minority living in a certain community, they all look like they’re at-risk or high-risk. And if you think about it, we’re all at-risk or high-risk of something…
Jim: That’s for sure!
Tyrone: …Between all the drugs, sex, alcohol, anything that’s inappropriate, if you don’t have the proper guidance and resources around you. So what we try to target is a kid that may be in that environment, but he’s a thinker. Even if – and he’s a leader. Even if he’s leading in the wrong direction, like, gang member…
Tyrone: …But he’s making a choice. And so I try to take one of those kids – 99 percent of them don’t have their fathers in their home – either dead or incarcerated or never met him. A majority of them – parents – are not actively involved, may be involved in the juvenile justice system. And a lot of them are behind academically. But at the end of the day, they have that “it” factor that I be looking for.
Tyrone: And they have that leadership potential.
Jim: Let me ask you, uh, this question. Um, when I engage children, it’s rare to find a child – I’m talking maybe 5, 6, 7-year-old child – where they may have experienced some tough stuff, but their hearts – it’s just like Jesus said – their hearts are pure as gold. Even in tough neighborhoods, they’re not yet jaded, and they haven’t maybe been wounded in a way that they are becoming angry or, you know, those typical attributes of a little older child who is now figuring out what’s going on. What happens, as you’ve seen these really high at-risk kids, what changes that? What is that weapon of the enemy of our soul that starts to tear them down, and they become bitter and angry and mad and want to take out their own form of justice on those around them?
Tyrone: And you hit on the head when you say justice – because a lot of times, they just want to be understood. I mean, because if you think about it, when I first grew up, when I was starting out, I didn’t know what I was going through was a negative. Sometimes difference is just difference. It doesn’t mean right or wrong, at least sometimes.
Jim: Paint that picture for us. What was your childhood like?
Tyrone: I mean, I grew up in a single-parent home. My grandmother raised me with her 12 children. My father was murdered when I was 10. I’ve only seen him maybe five times prior to him dying. And my mother, even though she was around, she made it very clear she didn’t want to be a mother. She was a teenager. And so my grandmother had a choice, either stay at home and keep us out of trouble or go to work and provide. So she worked two jobs. And so I was basically raised by teenagers who were anywhere from 10 to 15 years older than you. And what did teenagers do – even the good ones? They experiment. With, you know, making their choices. And I was exposed to drugs, sex, alcohol. But what also – I was interacting with basically adults. And even though things were difficult when it came to your basic needs, as far as food, shelter – sometimes the lights were off and the water would get turned off and things of that nature, food was a challenge – I still felt loved and acceptance. And so…
Jim: By those teens and your grandmother?
Tyrone: Oh, yeah.
Jim: Or mostly by your grandmother?
Tyrone: Mainly my family.
Tyrone: My family accepted me. Because, remember, I was the very first grandchild.
Tyrone: So I gave everybody their title.
Tyrone: But the thing about it, even though you had love, I didn’t have that proper structure…
Tyrone: …And that guidance.
Tyrone: And so some of the things that I was learning was inappropriate. And so I became angry because no one explained to me what was going on. You know, it wasn’t my fault, you know. And don’t attack my family. Because a lot of times it’s like, well, this environment is unfit and something wrong. So I started becoming defensive to protect my family and what it stood for.
Tyrone: And after that, it was just on. And you get labeled – after that, if you get in one fight, you the aggressor. You know, you can never shake those labels.
Jim: Well, and that was part of your experience. You became a fighter in school, right?
Jim: I mean, you were going to settle scores. And this is how you did it. And people respected you. Did you, as a young man in that spot, did you feel that that brought you a certain credibility, you know, a label that you liked – tough guy?
Tyrone: Well, it wasn’t necessarily you liked. But any label that you can get that will help balance the playing field, it helped. It made you feel necessary in some way. But, yeah, fighting – I was never a violent person.
Jim: Yeah. I think both of us shared wonderful adult figures in our lives that came along. Mine was a football coach who took an interest in me. I think yours – her name was Miss Collins.
Tyrone: Ms. Collins.
Jim: Describe Miss Collins and what she provided for you at a young age?
Tyrone: OK. Well, fast forward about seven years… I was in a juvenile system after going through the foster care for three years and reformatory schools, state hospitals. And all of a sudden, I’m at this reformatory school. And I was going through the meal line. And this beautiful African-American lady looked at me and smiled – that smile like the social worker – and said, you remind me of my son.
Tyrone: And at that moment, it was the first time I felt like I had a mother… In a traditional way because she was closer to my age. You know, your grandmother…
Tyrone: …Is your grandmother. You almost want her to be your grandmother…
Tyrone: …And have a mom. So I was like, man, I have a mother. And no – no conversation.
Tyrone: She just did that smile.
Jim: You just kind of quietly adopted her…
Jim: …As mom.
Tyrone: That’s a good word. She became my foster mother.
Jim: That’s really interesting. But it was lovely. You made her – what did you make her in woodshop? You made her something there?
Tyrone: Well, we – our interaction with – over a period of a year – was less than 24 hours because it was only when I was going through the meal line, and she made a comment about her son and providing for him. But she always smiled when she said it. It was the first time I’d ever seen a provider that had a positive attitude about the child that they had to provide for. Because when I grew up, it was always a struggle. And so she helped me with that attitude. And the only way I could say thank you – I was getting ready to be kicked out and leave. I made her a jewelry box, and I just handed it to her. We never exchanged words.
Jim: You just…
Tyrone: That was my way…
Jim: …Handed it to her.
Tyrone: …Of saying thank you.
Jim: Tyrone, I want to really highlight something you just said. It’s so critical that she had a positive attitude as the mother of her son and what that spoke to you. People that haven’t gone through this kind of arrangement, you typically get sour attitudes, you get downer people. Why do I have to provide for you? Why are you in my life? You’re a burden to me. Even that, they don’t get a lot of positive or observe a lot of positive. That’s what you’re driving at, right?
Tyrone: Yes. In any relationship, if you decide to take on that responsibility, you shouldn’t put that burden on that person that’s already going through that struggle.
Tyrone: And often, we do. It’s you’re the reason why we have to go through X, Y and Z. And you want to just be accepted for who you are and where you’re at and try to be a resource to change things. But, again, it gave me the attitude – and I tell every kid I work with, I am blessed to work with you.
Tyrone: God has put you in my life. I’ve chosen you. And it’s nothing about your circumstances that’s going to change that. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to frustrate me or make me upset, but the dynamics of our relationship and everything that comes with it, and you, is embraced. And that’s how we start. Because they are children. They are key. And we are the adults. They ain’t going to know everything. And so – but often, that role is reversed.
Jim: Well, and right there, that very statement that you’re important enough to me to lift you up higher than myself…
Jim: …That’s kind of right out of Scripture.
John: And this is Focus on the Family. Our guest is Tyrone Flowers. And, uh, we’re so glad to have you listening along as he shares his story. There’s a lot more to come. And, uh, we just wanted to say you can find encouragement for ways that you can step in and make a difference in a child’s life at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or call us, and we can direct you to some things – 800-232-6459.
And, uh, Jim, you mentioned it earlier, but Wait No More, our program to encourage foster care involvement from the whole range of ways to help out. Uh, we’d be happy to tell you more about that when you get in touch.
Jim: Tyrone, I do want to get to your specific tragedy. Uh, you’ve had many tragedies in your life, but this one was life-long impact. I mean, you’re in a wheelchair.
Jim: And, uh, what happened? What led up to this encounter? What was the situation, and what took place?
Tyrone: Well, it’s interesting from the period of seven through 17 and going through all those facilities and relationship dynamics, I was released from the largest youth facility in the state of Missouri and told to go home and play basketball. That’s all they saw in me. I’m 6’4”, 220 pounds. They didn’t see school, education or anything like that. And so I ended up living with a relative that loved me but didn’t have the means to support me. And I learned something that most adults know very well – is how to look good on the outside, but I was messed up on the inside.
Tyrone: All of a sudden, I became very popular in school because of basketball. I’m the man. And now I’m dealing with these social dynamics that I’ve never really encountered. I was used to being not the man, in the C class. Now, you’re in A class. And so that created some dynamics with some of the players that led to me having a personality conflict. And two weeks before graduating from high school, we got into it, and I thought we were going to fight. And he pulled out a…
Jim: You and another player.
Tyrone: Starting point guard on my basketball team. He wasn’t a drug dealer or gangbanger. We both loved sports. But it was more so just peer pressure and jealousy. And what happened was, again, we, uh, got in a verbal confrontation on a city bus. And I thought we were going to fight. And he pulled out a 357 Magnum and shot me three times.
Jim: Three times.
Tyrone: Three times.
Jim: Hit you in the shoulder.
Tyrone: Yeah, blew a hole in my neck – shoulder-neck area – that’s what nicked my spinal cord and paralyzed me – and in my hand and my leg.
Jim: Man, what did that communicate to you? I mean, you’re trying to heal up. Did you – at that point, are you going, God, are you there? Where is God in this whole picture for you?
Tyrone: Well, it’s kind of interesting because I grew up religious. And I used to make deals with God, you know, because I knew how, on Sunday, we were all God. And in every other day of the week, it was all about us. And so that was my relationship with God. And I always knew it was something more, but I didn’t know what that was. But going through what I went through – we always pray to God, if you do this for me, I’ll go to church, I’ll listen to my teacher. But I found myself becoming a hypocrite with God – all the people in my life, there was hypocrites that would promise me something but would never show up. So at the age of 13, I stopped making deals with God. And I used to say once I get married, or once I turn 65 or right before that plane crash, I’m going to start going to church.
Tyrone: Because I knew that it took more. And – but I wasn’t willing to…
Jim: Let me ask you this for the benefit of listeners. I mean, some people, they may not have a relationship with Christ. And they’re hearing you, and they’re going, I – I’m – I’m – was making that same decision…
Jim: …At 15, at 20 that you made at 13. Why – and did your heart grow cold toward God in that regard? You kind of turned that relationship off, it sounds like?
Tyrone: Well, it didn’t grow cold. It was really more of a respect. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
Tyrone: It’s almost like this religious tradition, it was fake.
Tyrone: They didn’t really reverence God. So I was like, I don’t want to do it unless I’m ready. And so…
Jim: And be fully committed.
Tyrone: Fully committed.
Jim: I think the Lord respects that actually.
Jim: He wants you fully committed.
Tyrone: And that’s why when I got shot, it wasn’t a why me God in getting shot. Because in all honestly, I was more accustomed to negative things happen. It’s the positive things that would scare you.
Tyrone: I was expecting people not to like me, not to want me around. It’s the people that said come with me that made me nervous because I want to know your motives. This is new. This is different. So when I got shot, the thing that drew me to God was the way it happened. Because being an African-American male getting shot in the urban core, everybody assumed that you was a drug dealer or a gangbanger.
Tyrone: So what – I mean, you know, and that…
Jim: You weren’t either.
Tyrone: It wasn’t either. It was just peer pressure and jealousy. So when I went to God I was like, why me? Why’d it have to happen this way? I’ve already got all these negative titles. And that’s when he told me, this thing is real. No matter what you’ve been through as your childhood, you got to choose who you’re going to serve.
Tyrone: There’s a heaven and a hell. Because sometimes kids think because you’re going through so much that you’re going to get a pass. And that’s not going to happen. You got to make the choice. And I had to choose that day, was I going to serve. But part of salvation is what – forgiveness. And so I called him up and let him know that I forgave him and then God gave me the strength.
Jim: But describe that. Because some of us are living with unforgiveness. Help – help those that are living with maybe far less of an issue. But how did you really, Tyrone, forgive the guy that shot you and crippled you? And that’s a phenomenal heart.
Tyrone: In all honesty, it was just a choice. It wasn’t a feeling. I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t want to. And another thing that made me more comfortable with it, I knew all that I have done that I wanted to be relieved from.
Jim: So sinner saved by grace.
Tyrone: And that’s the part – was bigger to me.
Tyrone: It’s just being obedient. And the deal I made with God was you have one time to do me wrong because so many people have done me wrong. And if you commit – I mean, this was like a real personal conversation.
Tyrone: But it was – it wasn’t biblically. I just wanted someone to be there for me.
Tyrone: And I just said if you don’t lie to me, I will give this thing my all. And if that takes forgiving the guy that shot me, I will do it. And he promised me peace and understanding. Because I really wanted to understand what was the purpose of all of this mess.
Tyrone: Because every road I would go down, it seemed like there would be a door shut. And, you know, I had three scholarships offered to play basketball right before I got shot. So…
Jim: How did your life begin to turn around then? I mean, you make this commitment to the Lord. He says forgive the man that crippled you. Um, did things begin to turn around right away? Did you feel God’s love? Did people express it to you? How did you start sensing that, OK, God is who he said He is?
Tyrone: Well, He started making sense of my past, and that’s where it started. Because once I gave my life to Christ, I started noticing how kids were responding to me and other adults. Because I only wanted to save me, to be honest with you. I figured if I could make it into heaven, I was doing the world a favor. I didn’t know anything about this ministry stuff. And then when I started seeing other people’s response, then my past started making sense. Because when I shared what I went through…
Tyrone: …And then kids started changing, then young-adults started changing, that’s what changed me and made me want to go further. Because most adults shut the door when I said I wanted to go to college.
Tyrone: I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. They said, no, that’s not going to happen because of the color of your skin or your family’s last name or where you lived.
Tyrone: And so that’s what motivated me to show them that with God in your life and some hard work, you can go beyond natural circumstances.
Jim: Yeah. Tyrone, so often, we talk about our passion coming out of our pain, and that’s obviously what the Lord has done in your own life and in your heart. Describe for us that mentoring process with these kids that you engage. What are the creative ways that you go about strengthening them emotionally and spiritually and helping them to, uh, think more highly of themselves in a healthy way – that I can achieve something, that God does love me? Because they feel unlovable.
Tyrone: Yes. And it’s very interesting because they don’t realize that the worst is behind them in a lot of ways. And that they really are prepared for everything in moving forward. It’s just identifying those strengths. So we don’t focus on the fact, if you’re selling drugs or if you’re – all the negative behavior. What I spend time initially is identifying and focusing on and highlighting their strengths.
Tyrone: And we spend anywhere from one to 10 years mentoring on them by the strength-based approach. Because once they see that, it’s human nature to let go of this in order to be able to do this. They know very well, like I knew very well, all of my weaknesses and shortcomings. The system did a very good job of documenting that for, you know, the past 18 years.
Tyrone: But showing them those strengths – but also, we got to realize we live in a natural world. We can’t just talk about the spiritual and how great you are. These kids need shoes.
Jim: (Laughing) Right!
Tyrone: They need to understand the process…
Tyrone: …Of how to get in school…
Tyrone: …And how school can impact your life from – in a natural way, how to talk to someone. I was raised with all these people that we would scream…
Tyrone: …But that level of communication was so normal. So when I would talk to you, and you’d say, stop yelling, I would take offense to that. And I’d make it me against you. So I had to normalize myself in order to fit in, even though I wasn’t normal. And so with these kids, they’re extraordinary, but they also got to find ordinary ways to fit in in spite of their circumstances.
Jim: You know, let me say, Tyrone, thank you for being that person. And we’ve got millions of people listening. And to their credit, they’re saying how do I plug in? What can I do? And many of you do in so many ways through your church, through Focus on the Family, in our Wait No More program.
Jim: Um, and you’re a wonderful example of just saying, Lord, what can I do to help these kids because I was one of them. And it’s a beautiful story, Tyrone. And I want to say thank you. Thank you for being there for these kids. Who knows how your being a father, spiritually speaking, to so many of these kids that are appreciative of that smile, that encouragement, the Word of God that you’re giving them. And I hope people will help.
Tyrone: And I also want them to know that this all didn’t come together overnight. I didn’t have a desire to work with kids until God gave me the purpose.
Tyrone: And then I didn’t have no social skills when I started. I’d never been trained to do a group. So sometimes when we waiting on the training, we have got say go, just go.
Jim: (Laughs) You just jumped in.
Tyrone: I didn’t know what a 501(c)(3) was. I didn’t know what a board of directors were. I just know that those kids needed help. And what God did in my life, I know He can do it in theirs.
Jim: Tyrone, this has been wonderful, man. Thank you so much for helping these kids and for all you do at Higher M-Pact. And we will connect, uh, to your website so people can be in touch with you that way and, uh, go for it.
Tyrone: Thank you, guys…
Jim: Jump in the river.
Tyrone: …For all that you’re doing.
Jim: All right.
John: What a great conversation with Tyrone Flowers on Focus on the Family. And you can learn more about him, and Higher M-Pac,t at focusonthefamily.com/radio, or when you call 800-232-6459. 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY.
And certainly, when you get in touch, ask for the CD or download of today’s conversation. And we also have information about our Wait No More outreach that we’ve mentioned along the way here.
Jim: I hope you were challenged and motivated by what you heard today. Because this is the heart of God — caring for widows and orphans. Meeting the needs of children and families who don’t have any hope without our help. Wait No More or Waiting to Belong are ways you can do that — learning more about becoming a foster-parent or an adoptive parent, bringing these children into your home, and giving them a fresh start on life.
It’s not easy, that is for sure, but it certainly is God-centered. My wife, Jean, and I have done this for the past 10 years or so. And it requires getting some training so that you can be that foster family or that respite giving family. It’s kind of like grandparenting, where you just give a weekend to that adoptive family or that foster family. There’s many ways to get involved. That’s the point. And it is important for us to do what we can do to help save these children. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.
When you donate to Focus on the Family, you support Wait No More or Waiting to Belong programs. Your generous giving will enable us to identify and equip more families to get involved in helping at-risk kids. And with God’s love, we can transform their lives forever!
John: And that kind of outreach is especially appropriate here in the middle of National Foster Care Month. And so we hope you’ll contact us right away. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or you can donate at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Coming up next, how to apply more grace to your parenting!
Mrs. Karis Kimmel Murray: We’re not being gracious when we don’t have rules and boundaries for our kids. And grace does not mean a lack of rules because that’s not how God treats us.
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