“He got the recognition he deserved. But that was then. Now, he is forgotten.” As he said these words, the expression on Layvin’s face flipped like a light-switch from hopeful longing to anguished cynicism.
Layvin spent his early years following his big brother Reinu everywhere he could. The only things that stopped him were signs that read: “You must be this tall to enter.” Reinu didn’t mind his little brother tagging along. He loved Layvin more than he loved anyone else—and he did love everyone else, even their foster parents Mr. and Mrs. Stinklecrinks, unrighteous beneficiaries of the well-intentioned Foster Parent Tax Deduction.
Young Layvin never understood how Reinu could find enough space in his heart for the Stinklecrinks. They were not kind people. They hardly spoke to the young brothers unless it was to discourage them from doing anything that would cost them a dime. Calling it discouragement is too polite. More accurate is verbal abuse intended to squash any hint of self-esteem. The less the kids believed in themselves, the less they demanded and so the less they cost. But the young brothers had what they needed: each other. Reinu used to remind his brother to feel thankful for the Stinklecrinks and the roof over their head. Although Layvin never understood how Reinu could have any gratitude at all for the Stinklecrinks, it also never surprised him.
Years later, Reinu made his way to college with a full scholarship. Layvin refused to be left behind alone with the Stinklecrinks, who only grew nastier with age. With a heart full of fear and eyes full of rage, Layvin fled down a dangerous path. Reinu checked in on him every night by phone, but there was only so much he could do. For years, Layvin languished where many other former foster children also languished in downtown Memphis—behind prison bars.
Reinu knew what he had to do. He worked, worked, and worked some more. He graduated with highest honors and went onto law school. He created the Association for Opportunity for Foster Children (AOFC) to advocate for more effective foster care policies. Reinu led the effort to remove the Foster Parent Tax Deduction and successfully secured funding for AOFC to design a public program that better matches foster children with love, care and opportunity.
Within two years, the AOFC’s newly designed program had been adopted by 150 cities around the country and supported over 5,000 foster children in education and mentorship programs. Reinu was invited to the Presidential Palace to receive an award from President Hussein Bomo in recognition of his valiant efforts, but Reinu respectfully declined the invitation and sent another AOFC member in his place. For Reinu, it was not about him. Above all, it was about Layvin.
A few years later, Reinu went to visit Layvin, who by now had left prison and lived in a small studio east of the Memphis River. Layvin’s time in prison hardened his heart for anything in this world, except for Reinu. Reinu was the only thing that kept Layvin from taking his own life, let alone the Stinklecrinks’ (who did not adopt any more foster children after the termination of the Foster Parent Tax Deduction). The two brothers sat out on the front stoop together. Layvin wearing sweatpants, old Nike’s, a white tank-top and tattoo’s of symbols that Reinu could not read, and Reinu also wearing Nike’s, jeans, and a simple, light grey collared shirt. Reinu put his hands on his little brother’s shoulders, looked him in the eye, and told him that all that he does is for him, then got up and left. It was the last time Layvin would see Reinu, who took his last breath shortly after he fell asleep that night, at just 36 years of age.
Layvin took it on himself to continue what his brother started. He set his life straight and joined the AOFC. He moved up the ranks and reached the presidency in just five years – it is amazing how hard one can work with a sense of purpose. But Layvin always felt out of place. He was surrounded by high achievers with graduate degrees who were there for little more than a resume boost. He struggled in this environment, wondering what Reinu would think of AOFC today.
As we leaned over the rail of the Memphis Bridge that autumn evening, overlooking the steady stream of the Eastern River as the sun retreated, Layvin uttered those words to me as remembered his older brother and lamented over the turn he saw the AOFC taking: “That was then. Now he is forgotten.”
I turned to Layvin and admitted to him that I never heard of Reinu, but that one year my old foster parents gave me up when the Foster Parent Tax Deduction ended, and it was the best thing that happened to me. I joined a newly formed mentor program and was guided to college, where I dedicated my own life to create opportunities for other foster children. Layvin turned to me, then back onto the river. We both looked ahead and watched the sun fade away.