Posted by: Dal Watson | February 12, 2012

A Midland Son “Speak(s) Hope”:

The poster hanging on the door entering the Fellowship Hall at Midland’s (TX) First Baptist Church read this: “Pittsburgh Steeler * Midland Son * Man of God * Philanthropist * Missionary: Come Hear Baron’s Story of ‘Hope In Life’.” Talk about truth in advertising! It was the most captivating 90 minutes of time that I’ve spent in a very long while! Local sports standout Baron Batch was responding to his hometown’s distress signal, their S.O.S., for help during a very dark time.

You see, our West Texas community of just over 100,000 people has recently been rocked to its core by four different local high school students committing suicide since just mid-November of last year. There have also been several other young adults do the same thing here recently as well. From an outsiders perspective, one might wonder ‘why’ Midland, ‘why’ now? Our local economy, for the lack of a better description, is “rocking,” and I mean that in a very good way. With oil prices hovering at around $100 per barrel these days, the Permian Basin (a.k.a. West Texas) continually leads Texas these days in the lowest unemployment numbers month after month. While much of the rest of the nation is still suffering from a battered economy, the Permian Basin, with Midland at its hub, sits out on an island providing many high paying jobs, and an economic future that appears to be bright for many years to come. Our schools are busting at their seams with new students, and our local restaurants, grocery chains, and retail stores are exploding with sales. Houses and apartments can’t be built fast enough. Yes, it’s another one of those boom times here in West Texas. So to the question, ‘why’ Midland, ‘why’ now, as it pertains to these teen suicides. I really don’t have a good answer for that! Just because our economy is on full throttle, we are not immune from hopelessness and despair just like anywhere else in our nation or our world.

Baron’s personal story of his upbringing is hard to imagine, even when you sit there and listen to him tell it to you first hand. I’ve heard bits and pieces of his story over the years, but last night was the first time I could fully appreciate all that this young man has been through during his 20+ years here on earth. Born in December 1987 in nearby Odessa, Baron describes living with his parents and siblings in a trailer house in the middle of ‘nowhere.’ Having lived in the Permian Basin for over 40 years myself, and knowing the area that he’s talking about, he’s not exaggerating… not even a little bit. Whether Baron would want it to be described this way or not, from my perspective, his life up until this point is nothing short of a miracle of sorts. I won’t get into all the details that he shared with us last night about his life, but they are now fully etched into my mind, as I’m sure they are for anyone else that was there in attendance at this event. For me, his life would be something you would see only on the big screen in a movie theater, and if you didn’t know better, you would leave the movie house wondering if Hollywood had sensationalized it. In this case, reality seems to be stranger than fiction.

Baron began playing football in the 7th grade without his parent’s knowledge at Goddard Junior High School. He was a high school standout at Midland High School as well as at Texas Tech University. In 2011, Baron was selected in the 7th round of round of the NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers; the 232nd pick overall. In the grand scheme of things, there are not many souls walking this earth that can claim they were drafted by an NFL franchise. That fact speaks to Baron’s abilities on the field, but it by no means speaks to his heart and love for people off the field. Even if you didn’t know anything about Baron, you could discover alot about his character in his blog posts, newspaper columns, Facebook ‘fan page’ posts, and his tweets on Twitter. Even though Baron’s rookie season was interrupted by an ACL knee injury, I hope and pray it’s only a mild setback for an athlete whose career has been riddled by injury. I can only imagine the pride of the people in that room last night that have seen where Baron has come from, and the man that he has come to be at this stage in his young life. Family members, former coaches, teachers, principals, mentors, and people, as Baron described them, as those that reached out to him and gave him a hand up. Baron spoke of his hopelessness that he experienced, and how he siphoned ‘hope’ from people around him that were willing to give it to him. Although I was captivated by his personal story, I was even more intrigued with his “Q&A Session.” I watched this young man get as real and transparent with people as someone could possibly be. Several stories were shared by people in the audience that had/have similar encounters of hopelessness and despair. I recently came across something that said this: “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d probably grab ours back.” That was never more true for me than last night. No matter how difficult a question that was asked of Baron during the Q&A period, he did an eloquent job of answering it from his heart. Baron is one of those unique individuals that can empathize with people and truly say, “I know how you feel” and be completely spot-on. One of the other things that I appreciated about Baron’s talk was his pure honesty. For those that shared of things that have or are currently going “bad wrong” for them, he could pull up a nearby chair, sit down across from them and look them eyeball to eyeball to tell them that their situation may not change short term, but they too (like him) could get through it long term, and encourage them to seek out other people in their lives that could give them a hand up and ‘speak hope’ into their lives.

If I’m being completely honest, while I sat there last night and my eyes and ears took in all of this information, I was fighting to keep my emotions in check as it began gradually leaking out my eyeballs numerous times. One person asked Baron (and I paraphrase), “why do we live in a world with such hate?” “That’s a really great question,” Baron responded. While I don’t remember the balance of Baron’s response on this particular question, I came to this conclusion. The more I think about it, the more I see a direct correlation between the words “hate” and “self absorption.” As a society, we spend enormously too much time focused on ourselves; me included. No matter what your age, let me be completely frank with you…”YOUR WORDS MATTER!” The words you speak to people face to face, behind their back, on your phone with them, in your text messages to them and about them. YOUR WORDS MATTER in the things you post on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Instagram, a blog, an e-mail, a website, a voicemail, a Voxer/HeyTell message, in an old fashion written letter, on a whiteboard, or on a yellow sticky note. We have several choices when we communicate with other people. Two very obvious ones are injecting negative things into someone else’s life, or we can ‘speak hope’ to a world that desperately needs to hear it. ‘Hope’ can be very simple words or deeds. God gives us a thing in this life called ‘free will.’ That means you are free to do positive or negative things. The things that we CHOOSE to do speak alot about us as individuals. Me included; when we get our eyes off ourselves, and on to the needs of others, I promise you the world; your world, will become a better place for us all.

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in a position of leadership among your peers, I’m begging you to take a stand against all the negative that you see others are trying inject in the lives of your fellow man. Bullying, be it live-and-in-person, or the cyber-version, needs a dramatic decrease in our society. If you are in a leadership position among your peers, and you’re thinking “I’m not going to get involved…it’s not my problem;” that my friend is only going to make it worse. Stand up for those that are being picked-on…don’t just stand there and do nothing, or worse be an accomplice to the bully. No, I’m not saying take matters into your own hands and get in the bully’s face. If you are a student, have the courage to let your teachers, principals and administrators know about it. People in our community are literally dying because of it. Now more than ever, at the expense of four young souls thus far, help is here, and you don’t have to fight this issue alone anymore! Have the courage to speak up! It is time for the ‘code of silence’ to be broken for the bully-cowards that stand behind it! While I have no direct evidence that bullying occurred in any of the four recent teen suicides in our area, bullying was a subject continually being brought up over and over by people in the Q&A session last night.

So, when is all this going to end? The truth of the matter is: NEVER! I truly hope we’ve seen our last suicide in this area for a really long time! But there will always be, no matter how good or bad our economy is, people that feel hopelessness and despair. They are all around you and me. We as a society, as God fearing people, have to adjust our internal desires more toward the needs of the people around us and less upon ourselves…now that’s easy to talk about, and an altogether more difficult thing to do; me included.

Baron, thank you for coming home to ‘speak hope’. Your words of encouragement were not lost on those that heard what you had to say. Thank you also for being the type of example that young people can look towards and aspire to be like. Thank you FBC’s Christian Nichles and Hunter Seigler, the many other local churches and their respective staffs, school administrators, principals, counselors, coaches, teachers, office workers, volunteers, non-profit organizations for doing all that you can to ‘right this ship’ of hopelessness and despair, and to ‘speak hope’ into the precious lives of our community.

For more information and resources available, go here to the ‘Speak Hope’ website. Let us all do more to ‘Speak Hope!’

[Here’s more about Baron’s personal story in his ‘I Am Second’ video]

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