Yien Jock

Yien Jock

To the editor,

I read with despair of a homeless man found face down in the Mississippi river, drifting past your community.

It compelled me to let you know that he was not always homeless. He had a home. His name was Yien. Yien had many homes in the U.S. — one in Worthington, one in Omaha, one in St. Paul and one in Alaska.

His very first home was in a land that was in South Sudan. He drew a picture for me when he was 10 years old — a mud and thatch dwelling with little x’s around the perimeter. The little x’s represented a stick palisade to keep out the hyenas. His family fled South Sudan with the understanding that there was someplace better, someplace in this world that would provide a refuge. They took a giant step away from everything they had ever known to place their trust in people in a far off land.

Yien and his family were our neighbors and they were safe in my community. Yien left my community years ago and yet he would return to touch base with me and let me know of his journeys and struggles. He told me of the time he spent in the Bering Sea on a crab fishing boat. He didn’t get the high pay that most people do because he was not willing to work on the main deck. He looked me in the eyes and said, “I would have to put my faith in people on the deck and those all around me.” What he was really confiding in me was, “In that dangerous profession, I can’t trust others with my life.”

Yien was listed as homeless. Yien might have been without an address at the time of his death. He might have been adrift. Adrift in a society that offered limited hope and limited refuge his family had hoped to find in this nation. Young black men have a burden to overcome and those of white privilege are slow to awaken to this fact. Many see a maturing young black man as a threat rather than a promise of hope and burgeoning dreams. Dreams that will help fuel this nation’s future.

The Mississippi divides this nation in many different ways. With our proud beacon of Liberty we had promised him refuge and perhaps we failed. I suspect he was not without fault, but I do know that he held promise far beyond the riverbanks of the Mississippi.

Lady Liberty beckons to our shores with an offer of hope and refuge. The lamp of liberty was dimmed that day. It should give us pause to reconsider our humanity towards others and to consider those that have lived on the margins of our society.

Editor’s note: Yien Jock was found in the Mississippi, upstream of Hastings, on Aug. 15.

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