Malik is 19-years-old. He speaks calmly and openly about an illness that tore his family apart. “I think my mom was paranoid schizophrenic,” he says. “When I was 14 or 15, we got displaced. Within a year and a half, my mom moved my sister and me probably 40 times. She was extremely paranoid.”
After years of sporadic homeschooling, Malik had only completed the eighth grade at age 16. When his mother moved her family to Tulsa, Malik enrolled at Tulsa Hope Academy. It was there that Malik first found a safe community of caring adults. Anticipating another relocation, Malik began the process to trying to emancipate himself from his mother’s custody.
The family was staying at the Salvation Army, but Malik’s desire for independence led to a series of difficult confrontations with his mother. “It was early morning,” he remembers. “I told her I wanted my own place and she went crazy. She said we were going back to Dallas.” In Tulsa, Malik had found a community of support. “But there was nothing in Dallas for me.”
So Malik walked away. He called the Chaplain at Tulsa Hope Academy crying. “I said, ‘I don’t know where I’m going.’ He told me to walk to Safe Place. That’s when DHS got involved.”
Malik spent the next several months bouncing between Youth Services of Tulsa and wherever his mother was staying.
Once, on Super Bowl Sunday, Malik’s mother arrived at Youth Services to pick him up. “She pulled me out of there,” he remembers, “a safe place where I had shelter and everything I needed, to take me and sit in a van all day. She had no place for us to go.”
The last time Malik and his mother parted ways was one month later, over spring break. “We were staying in a Days Inn and she said we were going back to Dallas. I said there were people willing to help me in Tulsa. I felt like I could get on my feet here. I packed up my three trash bags of stuff and walked across the street. When she went back to Dallas, I was able to claim abandonment. I was 17.”
While Malik was living at the Laura Dester Youth Shelter, he was introduced to Life Launch. His small group, comprised of three caring adults from Life.Church, began meeting a few months later. Ronda and Keith Davis and Pam Bontrager were Malik’s official Life Launch team. Malik’s eventual foster mom, Susan McClarty, also regularly participated in the group’s gatherings. When Malik needed support, he knew that he had found another safe community in Life Launch.
After graduating from high school, Malik began to apply for post-graduate education. In early 2016, he began a one-year degree program in Surgical Technology at Tulsa Tech. Malik had worked for several years (and been steadily promoted) at Taco Bell in order to save up for independent adulthood. As a result, he has enough in savings to buy a car and take time off from work while he gets accustomed to his schoolwork.
As the time to begin his courses approached, Malik recognized that he was suffering from intense anxiety. “I worked all the time and was living on my own,” he recalls. “I became a recluse. Then I kind of had a breakdown,” he says. “And I called [one of my Life Launch small group members] Ronda.”
Ronda helped Malik make a doctor’s appointment where he received mild anxiety medicine. Malik was able to start school and is excelling in his classes.
Malik wears two accessories around his neck. The first is his Tulsa Tech student ID. The second is a silver cross. “I’ve always believed in God,” Malik says. “But my anxiety drove me to God. Over the last few months, I have been relying on him.”
In addition to his faith and his community at Tulsa Hope Academy, Malik says “Life Launch is a support system.” In his unique case, Malik’s hard work, determination, and maturity drive him to make wise life choices, but when the fears and insecurities of his youth creep up, Malik knows where to find a family.
Youth in Oklahoma are ready and waiting to be matched with a Life Launch small group of mentors. Will you Stand in the Gap today?
Visit www.standinthegap.org/lifelaunch for more information.