The holidays are times for reminiscing and recollecting remembering who we are and why we do what we do. For me, its about understanding and appreciating the opportunities I was granted by growing up in a safe and secure family home.
This is a picture of the house I grew up in at 401 Forrest Lane in Hamlet. My father had served in Vietnam, and he and my mother used a VA loan (one of the most successful homeownership programs of all time) to build their dream home in a clearing in the woods. Tri-level with a circular driveway and partially bricked, it was a late 1970s version of Shangri-La. This picture was taken during the holidays 25 years ago. If you look closely, you can see the reindeer cutout my daddy made in the front yard.
In the span of those 25 years, so much has happened. My siblings and I grew up. We moved away. We all moved back. We started our own families. Our parents grew old. Our parents died. In this house. At 401 Forrest Lane. Hamlet, N.C.
I show you this picture for a reason to show how significant home can be, even 25 years later.
First, I still have the pictures. Thats no small feat. When you dont have a safe, stable home, you lose things privacy and self-confidence; a sense of place and community. But you also lose the tangible memories that make up a life and create your history baby shoes, family Bibles, Christmas pictures.
When I decided to write this, I knew where these pictures were. They were with my first-grade report card and my fathers draft card from Vietnam and the dollhouse furniture my mother collected in anticipation of granddaughters.
And the pictures are digitized. Why does that matter?
I didnt just show up at the N.C. Housing Coalition this year I traveled here down a road with stops in college and law school and courtrooms and boardrooms. I started that journey in my parents house years before this one. Years of sitting at the dining room table at 401 Forrest Lane, Hamlet, NC. Years of catching the school bus from the same stop. Years of knowing where the pencils and the notebook paper were. Years of dodging the local librarian because I turned in books late and she knew where I lived. Years of learning to type on a typewriter and later in the computer alcove my parents created in the basement, back when rural Internet access meant tying up your telephone line for hours at a time.
When you dont have a safe, decent place to live as a kid, you dont get years of anything but struggle. Its much harder to build the skills to make the journey that led me here, much less keep those skills fresh so that you can one day learn to do something we consider so simple and mundane as to digitize your family photos.
Finally, this picture is about the promises of home. Promises made and kept. The promise made by the government to my father that his service would mean a better life not only for his countrymen but for his family. The promise made by my parents that we would always have a place to live and learn and grow to the extent that I still am tempted to write 401 Forrest Lane, Hamlet, NC anytime something asks for my permanent address. The promise they made to their community to be there until the time came to finally go to their eternal home.
All the things we take for granted should be the things we all take for granted. Over a million North Carolinians live in substandard housing or housing they cannot afford. In Wake County, nearly 1,200 people are homeless, including more than 200 children. All North Carolinians deserve a chance to fulfill their own promise of home.
That is why I do what I do because I started my journey toward this holiday season in the home my parents built just for us. Every kid deserves to take the same great trip.
Satana Deberry is executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition.