RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. Jim Saint Germain came to the U.S. from Haiti as a kid. He now runs a mentoring program in Brooklyn. But as a teen, he was often in trouble. At 14, he got kicked out of the house. And his middle-school dean, Carlos Walton, stepped in, even letting Jim stay with him for a short time.
JIM GERMAIN: Your house was organized and clean. And you had pictures of black leaders...
CAROLS WALTON: Yeah.
GERMAIN: And you were the first man ever who told me that you loved me. And I remember telling you that back. And I remember feeling awkward. Where I'm from, we don't tell other men that we love them. That was big. You go hard for those of us who no one else really wants to deal with. Where does that love come from?
WALTON: For one, I am that group, you know? And I remember being told that I couldn't get a recommendation for college. I remember hearing that people like me don't belong here.
GERMAIN: Same for me.
WALTON: But I knew better, thank God. You remember when you started to see some hope, you were talking about doing football and then your hand was hurt? And...
GERMAIN: I broke my wrist.
WALTON: ...You were asking the doctor, well, what about football? And he kind of, like, laughed. Oh, no, that won't happen. I remember you looking crushed after that.
WALTON: That's when I started to lose you. You weren't about school. You weren't about trying anymore. When you started getting into the whole drug game, I remember trying to talk to you, but you weren't hearing me at all.
GERMAIN: Right. I think it was one time where it really kind of hit me. I was on the corner, and you happened to stop at the red light, and I was right there.
WALTON: I just wanted to pull over. I want to grab you. I want to talk to you. But I couldn't let you feel that you could live that life and still have me on your team.
GERMAIN: You kind of just wave at me, and I was like, [expletive].
WALTON: And I remember driving away. I remember that [expletive] hurt like hell. Like, they say you're supposed to let a bird fly away and if it come back to you, then it's yours.
WALTON: But leaving that bird, and knowing how much you love that bird, bro, you've got to understand now, that was not easy. But now to see you go from where you were makes the whole full-circle part just that much more beautiful. I remember when you had your son.
GERMAIN: You had him in your hand, and you were holding him. I think the best thing I have in my life is knowing that if anything happens to me today, he's going to have you. You can't buy that.
WALTON: When were you most proud of yourself?
GERMAIN: I would have to say graduation. I remember I got dressed in my button-ups. I bought some shoes. And these are all the things I learned from you, you know? I put my cap and gowns on, and people were seeing me. And you know where I came from.
WALTON: I know.
GERMAIN: So you can imagine what the look was like in that neighborhood where you don't see too many of that.
WALTON: Not at all.
GERMAIN: And I remember, I felt like a superhero. But I was by myself, no family members, just me. And I remember feeling hurtful about that, too. But I knew that you were going to be there. And to me, that's family.
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MONTAGNE: Jim Saint Germain with Carlos Walton in New York City. Carlos was married last weekend, and Jim was a groomsman. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.
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