The bullying began when Wilson was still very young. Neighborhood children taunted him, mocking his darker skin color. Adults treated him as if he simply didn’t exist. The shy little boy retreated further and further into himself, afraid to say or do anything that might bring him unwanted attention.
Wilson’s feelings of isolation worsened when his father abandoned the family. His mother, Melba, would rise at 4 a.m. every day and work long hours just to feed them, still only managing to make about $125 a month to feed the family of eight. “My mom is a very hard-working lady. But my dad wasn’t around when I wanted him to be,” he remembers.
Wilson and his family are part of the Garifuna community in Honduras. Today’s Garifuna descended from the survivors of a seventeenth-century shipwreck of slavery-bound Nigerians, many of whom were eventually exiled to the Honduran coast. They are the third largest minority group in Honduras, and they regularly face discrimination and exclusion from mainstream society.
“There are many humiliations for being a Garifuna,” Wilson, now 16, shares. “Being the color I am is not simple because you have to put up with mockery and rejection.
Desperate to help her son, Melba enrolled him in Children International’s program when he was 3 years old, and he would wait nearly two years for a sponsor. Once sponsored, Wilson’s quality of life improved through his access to medical care, educational support and gifts for his birthday and Christmas.
Despite the help he was receiving, Wilson still hung back in social settings, nervous to participate in additional activities. “I was afraid I would be seen differently,” he says. One day Wilson made up his mind to go to the community center so he could become more involved in what the program had to offer.
It was then that he began to, as he describes it, “unwrap.” He would observe others until he became confident enough to contribute himself. And he soon realized that no one cared about the color of his skin. “[Children International] looks at everyone the same,” he says gratefully.
Wilson joined the program when he was 3 years old.
However, Wilson was still traumatized by the racism he faced in his daily life. A breakthrough moment occurred when he attended a youth camp hosted by Children International. He remembers, “They told me you don’t have to pay attention to mean comments. So you say, ‘I’m proudly black, because that’s what I am.’ You shouldn’t be ashamed of your skin color because what really matters is that you’re a beautiful person with a good heart. That opened my eyes and my mind.”
Always willing to do more, Wilson is now a program volunteer in his community. When he’s not in school or leading a tutoring session, he’s helping younger children write letters to their sponsors. “It’s nice that people come to me asking for help to write a letter,” he says.
Wilson’s 22-year-old sister, Dilsy, supports his efforts and is grateful for safety that Children International’s community center provides within San Pedro Sula, a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. “I’m glad when he goes to the community center,” she says. “There are a lot of risks here. It’s better that he spends his time [there] than in the streets.
“We tell Wilson to make the most of this opportunity because we didn’t have it. He has to study and work hard so that he can have a good life.”
Wilson now looks forward to graduating from high school —and he is ready to work hard for whatever comes his way. “I have been taught that you can get ahead and that no job is bad. You can move forward humbly, even with little.
Wilson's work as a program volunteer benefits his entire community.
Wilson’s story exemplifies Children International’s approach to intolerance and bigotry. At the core, our values guide us to offer respect and acceptance to all people, including communities of color, and to help nurture and unleash their potential. The diversity in our staff and the children we help creates an environment committed to multiplying good in the world. Racism is the antithesis of what we stand for and believe.
As the United States struggles to achieve racial justice, our work in Little Rock, Arkansas, is more important than ever. In a city where 42% of the population is Black, poverty and disparities in health, education, empowerment and employment are rampant. One out of every 5.6 residents of Little Rock lives in poverty. Navigating enduring systems of discrimination is part of the lives of our children, their families and our staff every day.
Through our programs, we are addressing the inequalities that children and youth face in our U.S. and global communities. Whether it’s racial justice in Little Rock, colorism in the Dominican Republic, or gender inequality in India, we are confronting and overcoming the inequality that impacts young people’s mental well-being and opportunities for success.