Whether driving to work, dropping the kids at school or eating at a favorite lunch spot, we all have faces we encounter on a regular basis in our daily journey. A few of my regulars have become part of the fabric of my life — even though I may have never met or had a conversation with them, their faces, warm smiles or simple presences are always consistent and expected in my daily trek. I wonder about the stories behind these faces, who these people are, what their lives are all about, how they became part of my world and perhaps yours as well.
One of those faces belongs to Clarence Givens. Anyone who travels Jefferson Avenue past Newman School in the mornings has had the opportunity to see Clarence Givens. An officer with New Orleans Private Patrol, Clarence has been detailed to Newman School for the past 8 years. What is remarkable about Clarence is his amazingly wide, bright smile, a gift to those who pass him each and every morning. Whether the day is sweltering heat, rain or freezing, that smile is always a given.
Clarence grew up an Uptown boy on General Pershing, testing the odds as so many young children do. Reflecting back, he shakes his head in wonder that he survived. He married, had six kids of his own (four boys and two girls) and began work as a contractor. The last house he worked on belonged to the owner of Gurvich Security, who convinced him to join his firm, leading to what Clarence describes as the “blessing” of the Newman School detail. The job at Newman, unbeknownst to him, would be the place that would bring him healing through the greatest tragedy of his lifetime.
Almost one year ago, Clarence lost his second-oldest son in a tragic car accident. His world shattered as he experienced any parent’s greatest fear: the loss of a child.
But in the depths of his grief, Clarence will tell you he learned the greatness of humanity and the extent to which he was truly a part of the Newman family. Within hours of his son’s passing, Newman parents poured into the school, offering financial and emotional gifts beyond what Clarence could have possibly imagined. His home was filled with Newman parents bringing food and encouragement. He attributes his ability to rise out of bed and walk again to one mom in particular. She came to his house every day, checking on him, offering tremendous love, encouragement and support. Her presence at times irritated him, but her unending support planted his feet back on the ground. Within a week of the tragedy, Clarence was back at his morning post, stop sign in one hand, the other waving children along with that bright, precious smile delighting morning passers-by.
As much as people say Clarence gives to them, they give right back to him, he says. He describes his morning work as a huge cup of coffee, a jolt that brightens his day encouraging him to continuing to walk the good walk.
Now a year after the tragedy, Clarence is eternally grateful for the love that was shared to him and grateful for the ability to continue in the work that he loves. At night, he looks up at the moon, searching for a bright star that is often close by. With it in sight, Clarence feels the presence of his son in that star that shines so bright and knows that he is safe, secure and in God’s hands.
Cecile Tebo, a licensed clinical social worker, spent the last 10 years with the New Orleans Police Department crisis unit, and resigned in October to pursue a dream of finding new ways to improve services for the chronically mentally ill in New Orleans. Her thoughts on mental-health issues and resources in New Orleans appear Tuesdays in UptownMessenger.com.