The moment did not have to happen. It was not ordained, fated or destined by God.
Instead, moments like these are often explosions at the end of a long line of chaos, trauma and neglect.
This — fear, anger, helplessness — causes that.
It can all be interrupted.
What if you could go back in time, five, six, seven years prior? What if you could intervene? What if you could help troubled children become whole?
This — love, attention, care — causes that.
"We are going to restore hope," Mike Gordon said, "one life at a time."
Seven months ago, Gordon — husband, father of five, a man of faith — left a high-paying career to start a nonprofit. During a pandemic.
He began fundraising, networking. A well-known youth coach and community leader, Gordon reached out to many — elected leaders, foundation heads, friends.
Officially launched in April, his nonprofit is called The Pursuit of Happiness and focuses on interrupting cycles and patterns of trauma in young Chattanoogans.
For those in traumatic situations, Gordon, staff member Briana Lee and other professionals step in with direct intervention, using a diagnosis known as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, to measure early trauma.
Without intervention, such trauma can lead to catastrophe: substance abuse, illness, violence, failed relationships, prison.
"A kid who grew up with yelling in home, gunshots, any type of physical, emotional or sexual abuse? Because of those traumas, and because of the levels of toxicity that is dumped in their body, it causes them to not be able to accept redirection as a normal kid," he said. "All that trauma that is undiagnosed? As long as it carries over, it continues to add up year after year. "
Gordon helps the family create a plan: in-home mentoring, grassroots counseling, case management and therapy, which is outsourced. Diagnoses are made; medication, if needed, prescribed.
Resources, often out of reach, are now available.
"I am able to take all families regardless of insurance and ability to pay through community donations," Gordon said.
For other young people, Gordon offers a bridge: Internships. Job training. Resume and professional, boardroom skills. Mentoring and relationships.
He's got two students interning with a local engineering firm, another at a local foundation.
"Our mission is to restore hope by alleviating the drivers of poverty," Gordon says.
Currently, the group is serving five clients. To serve more, Gordon is asking for help: individual and corporate donations especially.
"The more donations we receive, the more pro bono families we can serve," he said.
Located inside Rossville Boulevard's Impact Hub — with Metropolitan Ministries and other agencies — the nonprofit is overseen by a dynamic board — Joli Anderson, Sharonda Brown, Kevin Conley, Troy Rogers, Anthony Tate, Doug Stein and Dr. Luke Queen.
"Thirty-two percent of children in Chattanooga live in poverty," said Queen, an executive at Evergreen Life Services, who's worked in area childhood medicine since the '90s.
"Chattanooga must not only have a strong passion to help children in poverty and to break the stronghold of systemic challenges to success, but be a model city of leadership in America that exemplifies how to meet the challenge," he continued. "Hopefully, one day from the top of Lookout Mountain, remembering Dr. Martin Luther King's vision, we will be able to look upon the city of Chattanooga and say that we as a people have conquered those obstacles that break the cycle of poverty in our city."
Stein, a leader in the construction industry and co-founder of Black Creek, has known Gordon for years.
Gordon reminds him of the ancient Stoics.
"Marcus Aurelius said, 'There is no good for a human being except what creates justice, self-control, courage and freedom and nothing evil except what destroys those things.' Justice and freedom may rely in large part on institutions, but the other two are individual ideals that have to be nurtured face-to-face," Stein said.
To get involved as a donor, volunteer or mentor, visit the website — thepursuitofhappiness423.com — or contact Gordon at 423-355-1646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The more young people we pull out of a cycle of violence, drug abuse, poverty and abandonment, the more people we will create who are like Michael Gordon," Stein said. "And those people will lead us out of this wilderness."
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at email@example.com.