No child should ever be forced to sleep in a public park, steal blankets from Kmart and shoplift food just to survive. But that’s how Karvel Anderson survived for a couple of months as a student at Elkhart Memorial.
Now he’s playing Division I NCAA basketball for Robert Morris University. Last season, as a junior college transfer, Anderson helped the Colonials upset Kentucky, the No. 1 team in the nation.
When he graduates this spring, Anderson will become the first member of his family to receive a bachelor’s degree. He hopes to teach or work as a guidance counselor, but not right away. First, he’s considering an offer to play pro ball in Europe.
No child should grow up they way Anderson did. Yet he prevailed, and Elkhart takes pride in his success.
If only he felt the same about Elkhart — a place that, according to Anderson, deserves to be abandoned.
Anderson first gained national attention in 2009, when msnbc.com profiled him as part of The Elkhart Project, a yearlong collaboration with this newspaper using the city as a starting point for coverage of the recession. At the time, Anderson’s mother was in jail on a drug conviction and he was living with his grandparents. Then his grandfather lost his job, his grandmother became ill, and Anderson began an after-school shift in an RV factory in order to feed a household that included his two younger sisters.
“My check is what we use to eat,” he told an msnbc.com reporter in 2009. “I’ve gone days without eating to make sure they eat.”
In retrospect, Anderson’s bitterness toward Elkhart is understandable. The recession stole his childhood.
Yet people here believed in Anderson. One person on particular — Jerel Jackson, who’d just been hired as an assistant basketball coach at Memorial.
Jackson met Anderson at McNaughton Park, where Anderson was playing ball and sleeping at night after he’d run away from home. Jackson reached out to Anderson, fed him and gave him a place to stay, helped him develop a jump shot. Ultimately, he became a mentor to Anderson.
Anderson, speaking to a reporter for the Pittsburgh Sports Report, called Jackson “the closest thing to a father figure I’ve ever had.”
If Anderson is a hero, so is Jackson. He had no obligation to reach out to a homeless kid shooting hoops at McNaughton Park, but he did. And as a result, he probably saved Anderson’s life.
He’s no different from the hundreds, perhaps thousands of other adults in this community working every day to feed and clothe our children, to educate them, to protect them from harm. Anderson, though, sees no hope for anyone growing up in Elkhart.
Earlier this month, in a follow-up to the 2009 story, Anderson said leaving is the only way for young people to survive Elkhart.
“I just feel like I can be someone that shows people that you can get out,” he told an NBC reporter. “I really would, if I could, take everyone and move them somewhere else.”
Take everyone and move them somewhere else. Deprive the city of its best young teachers, counselors, ministers, coaches, artists, entrepreneurs and civic leaders. Make it impossible to find another Jerel Jackson.
Then what happens to the next child who, with the right guidance, can stay out of jail, complete high school and attend college? What happens to the next Karvel Anderson?
Shawn Kemp, who played at Concord High School, became a six-time NBA All-Star for the Seattle SuperSonics and Cleveland Cavaliers. He still maintains close ties to Concord and is expected to return to McCuen Gym for a game in January. Rick Mirer played quarterback at Goshen High School, which led him to Notre Dame and the NFL. The Mirer Family Foundation provides vital financial support for local youth organizations.
Kemp and Mirer both left town. But instead of forsaking Elkhart and Goshen, they seek to help our children succeed.
Here. Now. In the place where Anderson sees no future for himself or anyone else.
Elkhart faces the same struggles as any other community — poverty, unemployment, education, racism, prejudice, ignorance. But it is also filled with intelligent and loving people who embody hope, caring, diligence, vision and compassion. It was those people who helped Anderson fight his way out of homelessness, crime and despair.
Abandoning them only makes it harder for the next Karvel Anderson.