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By Martin Lamarque

From Belle Haven to Auschwitz

Uploaded: Mar 7, 2015

A couple of days ago, as he was about to board a train for Poland, my son called to tell us that he was well, and that he was going to go visit Auschwitz.

?I have been preparing myself mentally to finally go see the place,? he told me.

As far as I know, there is no Jewish people in our ancestry. But we have tried to raise kids who are aware of history, and of how history explains what happens in the world today. This is the best antidote against seeing your kids grow up and --God forbids-- one day join some horde of ignorant like those so prevalent in today?s political scene.

After we hung up, I could not help experiencing a whole new level of pride in my son, and the tears started to flow. Tears of joy and gratitude.

To hear him grasp that getting to see the infamous concentration camp is the solemn act that it needs to be, and not only an interesting place to visit, speaks of someone who has been able to hold on to a crucial connection to his humanity, often referred to as empathy. That ability to put yourself in someone else?s shoes to try to understand what they go through, and something that more and more of us fail to cultivate in our children.

Excuse me for getting touchy-feeling here.

See, as someone who by the time of high school age already counted among his experiences 10 months of homelessness, never, not even in my wildest dreams did I foresee that one day I would be bragging about the amazing kids I ended up with.

In fact, childhood for me and for the kids I grew up had been so harsh, that early on I had intended to never bring a child into such a cruel world.

But life happens, and one day I ended up with a smart and beautiful little girl in my life. At this point I had to make the conscious effort to see it to that I provided her with a life experience that would have to be almost diametrically opposed to the one I had experienced.

Along the way, many friends helped me make sure my shortcomings from what scientists now identify as toxic stress in childhood didn?t interfere too much with my ability to give my daughter the love, attention and patience that every child needs to thrive in life. It didn?t hurt of course, that she was born to a mother with no other agenda than dedicating herself to care for her daughter physically and emotionally.

Raising children can be a trying and complex project. Had not been for my luck in running into Sara Woodsmith and Patty Wipfler from Hand-in-Hand many years ago, ours would have been a very different story. From them I learned the skills to emotionally connect to my children early on, and this made all the difference in our lives.

The semester my son is doing in Austria is a program made possible by the University of Redlands. But how he ended up going to Redlands was a combination of support from a number of people and organizations that we are forever indebted to:

The Foundation for a College Education in East Palo Alto (FCE) that precisely today is celebrating 20 years of sending kids to college. One of their volunteers and fellow Director?s Board member (who is also a college coach and donates her time to FCE?s students) helped my son identify Redlands as a good match for his skills and interests.

The Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship has meant a great deal for our limited budget in meeting our share of college expenses.

That today my son is in Auschwitz paying homage to those who died because of the ignorance and intolerance of others, is just another proof of the great potential young people have when adults around them help them as they find their way in life--and in the process make sure their minds don?t get poisoned by the venom that surround us.