The Pride of Alabama

“I’m made to help people. My whole life, people have helped me time and again. I wanna do something to give back for once. Make my own way.”

Birmingham, Alabama—Jeremy sits behind a volunteer desk at Children’s South Pediatric, greeting visitors.

You can’t miss him, he’s the only black man in a wheelchair who is smiling more than the legal limit.

Jeremy is a soft-spoken, thirty-one-year-old. He has cerebral palsy. His speech is labored. His eyes are strong.

His birth-mother put him up for adoption as a newborn when she discovered he had problems.

“Had fluid on my brain,” says Jeremy. “My mother couldn’t deal with it. So, I was on my own, so to speak.”

So to speak.

He’s always been on his own. Nobody adopted him. Jeremy became part of the Alabama foster machine. He underwent God-knows-how-many operations in his lifetime. He learned to be tough and tender at the same time.

Our chat is interrupted by a mother with a sick baby. Jeremy rolls into action. He greets her, then tells her which doctor is on which floor.

“Nurses raised me,” he explains to me. “Spent almost my whole life in Children’s Hospital, from ten months old until twenty-five. They my real family.”

It was in the wings of Children’s Hospital that nurses, doctors, and therapists took turns loving the sweet-mannered baby with the big eyes.

Women in scrubs became his mothers. Men in lab coats became his brothers. He taught them about the human spirit. They taught him to smile.

And he smiles a lot. Even though life has been a battle.

He doesn’t mind battles though. In fact, that’s how he earned his degree from Lawson Community College. It’s how he survived childhood.

Recently, he moved into his own apartment. It was a major victory. After a lifetime of hospital beds, foster homes, and rough neighborhoods, Jeremy is a first-time bachelor.

“I LOVE it,” he says. “But sometimes at night, it gets creepy. Ain’t used to being alone.”

His coworkers threw him a housewarming party. It was a real shindig. They loaded his pantry with with goodies, essentials, coffee, sandwich grills, and gift cards.

Jeremy’s biggest goal is to one day have a paying job.

“Ain’t no businesses wanna hire me ‘cause how I look. But I ain’t giving up.”

I ask what Jeremy’s dream job would be.

“I’m made to help people. My whole life, people have helped me time and again. I wanna do something to give back for once. Make my own way.”

The public bus arrives. Jeremy clocks out. I bid him goodbye.

I shake his hand and tell him I hope he finds a job.

“Thank you SO MUCH, sir,” he says.

And his words cut me. I haven’t done a damn thing worth thanking. I haven’t fought to keep living, I wasn’t given away as a newborn, I wasn’t reared in foster homes.

I don’t ride public transit for two hours just to volunteer. I don’t fall asleep each night, praying for a job.

The bus wheelchair ramp lowers. Jeremy wheels onto the platform. The door closes. He waves goodbye.

He’ll be back tomorrow.

I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve traveled this state from top to bottom, and been fortunate enough to interview people from many walks of life.

But I have never shaken a stronger hand than Jeremy McNair’s.

Never.

44 comments

  1. Jan - September 15, 2017 1:36 pm

    What a beautiful story about a spectacular person!

    Reply
  2. Connie Ryland - September 15, 2017 1:40 pm

    Beautiful story. It’s people like that who give me the strength to get up every day and keep going, because how can I complain about my problems when so many have it so much worse. Thank you for the daily reminders.

    Reply
  3. Walter R Singletary - September 15, 2017 1:44 pm

    This, Sean, is your best since I’ve recently started reading. Life’s true heroes are those who come through a hard life with a smile and a desire to help others. Thank you for introducing me to Jeremy McNair!

    Reply
  4. Donna - September 15, 2017 1:54 pm

    This touched my heart !

    Reply
  5. CaroG87 - September 15, 2017 2:00 pm

    How is it that you always make me smile and cry all in the same work? Bless you Sean.

    Reply
  6. Richard Jones - September 15, 2017 2:06 pm

    Lot to be said for attitude and heart and this guy has it by the boat load.What a guy,I wish I knew him.

    Reply
  7. Pamela McEachern - September 15, 2017 2:10 pm

    I have learned it doesn’t take a person that has a whole body to have character, quite the opposite if truth be told. I’m going to keep Mr. McNair in my prayers and I just know in my heart that his inner strenght will help him find his dream job. Thank you for bringing this remarkable young man to our attention. Wow Jeremy, you have so much to offer our sad world, you are an inspiration ro all! 😊

    Reply
  8. teachenglish67 - September 15, 2017 2:28 pm

    I believe if some people would advocate for Mr McNair to become employed at that hospital, it would happen. It’s scary enough for some people and children to go to a hospital, Jeremy would help them with their fears. He’s an example of: “When life gives you lemons, make lemon pie or lemonade or both.” Thank you, Sean for introducing us to Jeremy. What a treasure he is.

    Reply
  9. Janne Swearengen - September 15, 2017 2:29 pm

    If this doesn’t help find him a ‘payin’ job, I don’t know what will. Thanks for giving him this slice of kindness.

    Reply
  10. Patsy Gordon - September 15, 2017 2:29 pm

    Jeremy McNair, wherever you are, please know you are prayed for and cared about! This story moved me to tears! Thank you for reminding us about so many things……

    Reply
  11. Tray Earnest - September 15, 2017 2:43 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of perspective. I have no worries. People like Jeremy have so much character and courage. We spent almost a week at Baptist Childrens with our little girl and it was terrifying. We left with a healthy child and a different perspective on life. Lots of those kids don’t get to leave. Makes you look at the day a whole lot differently when you experience that.

    Reply
  12. TN Lizzie - September 15, 2017 2:59 pm

    Dear Children’s South Pediatric:
    Jeremy, Jeremy,
    He’s your man.
    He’s good for your business,
    And help you, he can!

    What would have to happen to pay this man for the job he’s already doing, and can you help him find a place to live that’s closer?

    Reply
    • Pamela McEachern - September 15, 2017 3:07 pm

      We all need to pray on this, great suggestion! 💟📿

      Reply
    • Cathy Notaro - September 15, 2017 11:54 pm

      Yes!!!! I wish I still lived in Birmingham, I would personally go down to that HR department and talk to them about just that. And a protest to get him a paying job is finally a protest I could get behind.

      Reply
    • Patty Slater - September 16, 2017 2:31 pm

      I 2nd TN Lizzies post ! Bless you Mr Dietrich

      Reply
    • Catherine - September 17, 2017 1:56 am

      Absolutely~ why has this not already happened? Jeremy has truly been a beautiful ambassador for the hospital.

      Reply
  13. Paula Champion Jones - September 15, 2017 3:04 pm

    May Jeremy’s tribe increase.

    Reply
  14. Jack Quanstrum - September 15, 2017 3:05 pm

    Wow! What a amazing story. Jeremys spirit is incredible. You hear of all these athletes stories on TV but if any kids need role models or hero’s that can’t miss emulating him. I always think I have read your best story. But you always out do your self. What a beautiful gift to have and share it with us readers to inspire us to be better at being real and inspire us to be triumphant in all that we face. Shalom!

    Reply
  15. Mary Anne - September 15, 2017 3:10 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for introducing us to Jeremy McNair. What a great guy. What a great attitude. God Bless Him. I hope he finds that job he’s looking for because he will make someone a great employee. What an inspiration your story today was for me.

    Reply
  16. Thomas Lashley - September 15, 2017 3:51 pm

    Your best work in a long run of great work. Prayers going up for you and Jeremy!

    Reply
  17. Deena Grimsley - September 15, 2017 4:18 pm

    two beautiful souls……

    Reply
  18. Amy San Giacomo - September 15, 2017 4:26 pm

    Love your writing – today’s story about Jeremy made my eyes sting. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. Beverly Pennel - September 15, 2017 4:26 pm

    Arrow. Straight to the heart.

    Reply
  20. Wendy - September 15, 2017 4:33 pm

    Wow…just wow!

    Reply
  21. shogunclan - September 15, 2017 5:24 pm

    With God anything is possible not matter what the what the hardship may be. Praise God.

    Reply
  22. Patricia Gibson - September 15, 2017 6:32 pm

    Amazing man!

    Reply
  23. Lisa Gray - September 15, 2017 7:11 pm

    I have had the honor of working as one of those nurse mama’s for over 30 years. I have loved many Jeremy’s over the years. There are so many children who don’t have the love and support of a family. Thank you for sharing Jeremy’s story. I am blessed that the Lord put me in a job I love with special coworkers and even more special patients. Hoping and praying he gets a job soon, keep up the good work Sean.

    Reply
  24. Vanessa - September 15, 2017 8:00 pm

    As a mother of 2 disabled adult children I can testify to the fact that these individuals have the biggest hearts. Most only desire to have jobs and independence like normal functioning people do. If the world had the love and kindness of these individuals it would be such a beautiful world.

    Reply
  25. Howard Humphreys - September 15, 2017 8:46 pm

    Wonderful lesson in life.

    Reply
  26. ponder304 - September 15, 2017 9:01 pm

    I can think of no better job to be paid for than the one he volunteers for each day. This is so heart touching…He is a true fighter and hero.

    Reply
  27. Gayle parsons - September 15, 2017 9:14 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  28. Doris wismer - September 15, 2017 9:37 pm

    My eyes are leaking. Go Jeremy.

    Reply
  29. Melanie Tighe - September 15, 2017 9:58 pm

    What a beautiful story, Sean. Really needed this today. I have to wonder thought why the hospital doesn’t hire him with pay?

    Reply
  30. Kim O Washington - September 16, 2017 12:57 am

    To Jeremy, praying he finds his job, bless his beautiful soul. Thank you for introducing him to us.

    Reply
  31. Kathleen Mathews - September 16, 2017 3:20 am

    Thanks, that was a nice story about Jeremy. I hope he finds a paying job……I imagine the employer wise enough to give him a chance will never regret the decision. Good luck, Jeremy.

    Reply
  32. Barbara J Schweck - September 16, 2017 3:34 am

    Jeremy, you are amazing and someone that I hold up as a standard for how I would like to live my life. Gpd Bless you!

    Reply
  33. Pam Beauchamp - September 16, 2017 5:15 am

    What an incredible young man! God bless you Jeremy❤

    Reply
  34. Tim - September 16, 2017 5:23 am

    You are awesome. I feel privileged to read your writings. Thank you.

    Reply
  35. rosiegene1 - September 17, 2017 3:09 am

    Thank you so much for telling us about this amazing young man. I appreciate that you look beneath the surface and see the awesome man.

    Reply
  36. Vicki Parnell - September 18, 2017 6:04 pm

    I love all of your essays, but this one has left me speechless and crying at my desk. I wish I had a job I could pay Jeremy McNair to do. I would hire him because of his good heart.

    Reply
    • Pamela McEachern - September 18, 2017 10:27 pm

      AMEN, HOPEFULLY HE WILL HAVE HIS DREAM SOON 😇

      Reply
  37. Anne Trawick - October 2, 2017 9:21 pm

    Oh, my goodness, Sean, you’ve ruined my makeup again. Great read!

    Reply
  38. unkle - October 26, 2017 1:59 pm

    beaten down but not beaten. puts our petty little oh-mees into perspective now doesn’t it. God’s blessings on that up beat young man. uk

    Reply
  39. Martha Lowe - October 26, 2017 2:24 pm

    Thanks Sean for introducing us to Jeremy. What an amazing young man who is literally fighting the good fight! I pray he finds the paying job for which he was made!

    Reply

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