By Mike Tenbusch | June 29, 2022

In my senior year at U of D Jesuit High School, I was president of our Student Senate, which meant one thing to every other student in the school—it was my job to make sure that our dance each month “was live” so that everybody went home happy.  At an all-boys school in a time before cell phones, the monthly dance was our one and only way to meet girls.  We had a very diverse student body that got along well, but racial tensions in Detroit were sky-high and music back then was way, way different.  There was “black music” and “white music” and people from one race rarely listened to, let alone danced to, the music of another.  When people thought the DJ was playing too much of one type of music, it invariably was because the person who hired him (me) was “trying to be black” or was “too white.”

By April, it was time for senior prom, and I was just tired of it all.  We gathered the seniors together at lunch to go over the rules, and I was going over the menu when the meeting took an unexpected turn. 

“We’re having chicken, a tossed salad, rolls, potatoes and peas, and they have a couple of different desserts—“ I started to say.

“Peas!”  Stanley Wright shouted out from the front row.  “Why’re we having peas?  Black people don’t eat peas.  Why didn’t you order corn?”

I literally saw red.  The whole room shrank and started undulating, and everything had a red tint in my eyes.  My voice got loud and curt.  “You can’t be serious.”  I shouted.  “We’re having peas!”

“See, man,” Stanley said, “this whole thing is racist!”

I lost it.  All of the frustration of the year welled up inside of me and just exploded in an instant.  I went right at Stan, trying to choke him, pushing him backwards as he took an off-balance swing at me.  We wrestled each other into a headlock in front of a stunned group of seniors, before our friends pulled us apart.  Everyone else raced out of the room, laughing hysterically, telling the whole school about the big peas vs. corn fight.  The only physical damage that was done was that I lost all the buttons on my shirt, and I walked the hallways that afternoon with a wide-open shirt and seemingly every kid in the school laughing and asking me to pass the peas.  At 18 years old, I thought that was the lowest that my life could get, but I was wrong.

A photo from all the way back in high school from my yearbook. You can see Stan and I in the front row, with Stan far left and me far right.

A few weeks later, I found myself dehydrated on the infield of the track after a meet against Divine Child, our perennial rival. Whoever won this meet would be the league champion.  Stan was our all-state sprinter, and I was our all-state distance runner.  Divine Child had a bigger, better team, and Stan and I had to win all of our races for us to pull off the upset. It was a humid afternoon with temperatures in the 90s, and running the mile and half mile took everything out of me—but I still had the mile relay left.  Whoever won the relay was going to win the meet.

The baton was handed to me just a stride ahead of Divine Child’s anchor leg.  All I had to do was to hold him off for one lap around the track.  But with 60 yards to go, I got passed and was done. I gave it all I could and came up short.  I lost.  The championship was lost.  The stands emptied out while I cried on my knees in the middle of the infield, vomiting, dry-heaving, and thinking I would die.  I was alone there for what felt like hours before a voice startled me out of my despair.

“It’s OK, man.  You ran your butt off today.”

I was so sick I couldn’t look up and didn’t know who was there.

“I’m proud of you, man…you’re going to be OK,” he said over and over.

It was Stan.  He was the only one left on the track with me.  At my lowest and loneliest point, he was there to pick me up.

Sports, and being on a team, have a way of bringing us together when the divisions of the world are pulling us apart.

Our scholars from Tegucigalpa, Honduras posing together after completing the IntSam Global 5K in 2021.

When I got married in 1997, I had a $90,000 law school loan that I was trying to pay down while selling ice cream at Detroit Red Wings games and starting a non-profit we called Think Detroit.  My total income that year was $23,000, putting me pretty close to the poverty level at that time.  My car was 31 years old, and paying for health insurance was out of the question.

Marriage changed all of that for me.  Maritza believed in me, she supported me, and together we made a home that became our foundation for growth.  She was also the lending manager of a bank, making almost double what I made — and she had a shiny new car and health insurance.  I married way, way up!

Of course there have been challenges along the way.  It took us 18 years to pay off that law school loan, and Maritza and our three children made a lot of sacrifices so that we could make that $483 payment each month.  But by the grace of God we are all still together and making it through.

The life stories of our scholars and our graduates make the same point resoundingly clear.  When members of a family look out for each other, good things happen, even in the direst of circumstances.  To help build up families, we strategically invest the donations you make into food support, mental health counseling, and medical treatment for the family members of our scholars.  We want all of our scholars to be able to enjoy the strength that comes from family—if not in the one they have now, then in the one they will build after graduation.