Essay of the Week: A Commitment to Service Grows with a Smile and Macaroni and Cheese

By Taylor Little

“Boys, dinner’s ready.”

Mom’s voice expedites my Thanksgiving sprint. My cousins and I fall over each other, get up, and repeat the battle to be the first in line for some of Mom’s mac and cheese. Anthony, the oldest of the bunch, always wins and never waits either, nibbling his way through grace (he is a terrible Christian). By the time we say “Amen,” Anthony radiates in happiness, unaware of the table’s growing suspicion on the whereabouts of his mac and cheese.The stillness of his smile glows through the evening. There is only one other time when I saw a smile stuck in happiness because of mac and cheese.

It was Thanksgiving of 2012 and her name was Kathy. She is nine years old, thinner than normal but possesses a softness — a warmth — no wonder she loves mac and cheese. Kathy nags me, albeit pleasantly: “Where is the mac and cheese?”

“I don’t know. I guess it is coming soon”

Unsatisfied she returns.

“Excuse me Mr., where is the mac and cheese?”

I search for it several times and, failingly, face her question again:“Hello, where is the mac and cheese?”

I have been a basketball fan for years and was now surrounded by the Atlanta Hawks for a NBA Cares event. The players, like me, came to feed underprivileged children on Thanksgiving. I was excited to see the Hawks but I was riveted by Kathy and drawn to make her happy. When the food finally arrived, I was certain to make sure she received the mac and cheese. She was more starstruck by the mac and cheese than the stars from the Atlanta Hawks.

The moral pull – the stillness of the girl’s smile – has sucked me into community service like a black hole. If Dad were reading this, he would say, “it’s about time.” With a father who is president of the United Way of Atlanta, I was born into community service and may have, as a result, halfheartedly joined the serving lines at soup kitchens. I wanted to be my “own” man with my “own” path. I did not want to walk in the footsteps of Dad. But Kathy’s smile hit a chord. It shined a light. My engagement with community service from then on has not been motivated by bolstering my college application or professional resume. Through Kathy, I found the selfless faction of my identity; my own genuine interest to improve the lives of others.

I now blend community service with that other passion of mine, basketball, within my routine. Three times a week, I mentor children from the ages of eight to ten at the Boys and Girls Club in College Park, Georgia. Conveniently located right around the corner from my high school, I head over there once I am out of class to coach and referee basketball games. Every now and then, I am lucky enough to hear the winning question: “Will you play in a game with us?” That invitation makes my day. I can really bring it home with the proverbial “slam dunk” (the hoops only 8 feet). My presence on the court becomes something of a “wow factor.”

Joseph, the liveliest out of the bunch, becomes Chris Paul while I become his “Blake Griffin”, together, we are College Park’s “Lob City.” As soon as he crosses half court, he throws the ball in the vicinity of the rim with the hope that I will gently pluck it from the air and forcefully place the ball in the rim.

“Do it again,” the crowd cries.

I take every chance offered to make a positive impact on these kids. I want to inspire them to be the best people that they can be in the same way Kathy moved me. Looks like I have discovered a way to make community service a part of my life–on my own terms.

Taylor Little, a 2017 graduate of Woodward Academy, is now a freshman at Howard University.