In a wide-ranging conversation on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Wednesday, Home Depot founder Ken Langone spoke out unequivocally about the seditious riots at the Capitol. “If it doesn’t break every American’s heart, something is wrong. It breaks my heart, for sure. I didn’t sign up for that.”
While heartbroken, he was equally emphatic that a particular group of people are inspiring him right now. He explained in the interview: “I got a bunch of letters from these kids in Catholic schools this week…when I sat and read these letters, I felt so good. I thought, ‘we’re going to be OK. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be OK.'”
We’ve read those letters that inspired Langone so much that he mentioned them amid a national crisis, because the letters came from our students. This winter, a group of them shared reflections with the Langones, long-time supporters of our schools. And we couldn’t agree more: in these challenging days, our students truly inspire us.
The letters came from students at Sacred Heart School in Highbridge, a neighborhood in the South Bronx, one subway stop from Yankee Stadium.
The kids at Sacred Heart knew something about things being tough before the pandemic. Highbridge, their neighborhood, is hilly; getting to the school from the subway, and to almost anywhere else in the neighborhood, necessitates climbing one of a number of steep, long staircases that dot this section of the Bronx—long enough that they are sometimes called stepstreets.
It’s not just the route from the subway that is an uphill climb in Highbridge; the neighborhood is situated in one of the lowest-income Congressional districts in the country and has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Its stairs, along with Sacred Heart School at the top of them, have been full of strivers for generations.
On a warm June day back in 2019, Langone came to Highbridge to be interviewed by some of Sacred Heart’s middle school students. A fellow New Yorker, the son of a plumber and a cafeteria worker, he was interviewed on a range of topics, from his parents and his faith to his reasons for enthusiasm about capitalism.
So this winter, students reflected back on his comments in that interview and shared their reflections with him. Like Langone, who was born in the middle of the Great Depression, these students face generational challenges amid the pandemic and the deep divisions of our time.
We hoped that thinking back on Langone’s comments would encourage and inspire the students. It turns out, though—as Langone referenced on CNBC—it was the kids’ turn to inspire him, and us.
Here’s just a little of what they shared:
Thierry, Eighth Grade
Favorite idea from Ken Langone: “Faith gives you the ability to carry on. It gives you the strength to know you are not alone.”
[At the start of COVID] It was very sad to hear about a lot of people getting very ill and dying. Faith really helped me and my family get through those very rough days. My Mom had just given birth earlier to my baby sister and my dad works at LaGuardia Airport where there are always so many people coming from all parts of the world, it was always very crowded. This was personally a tough and scary situation for my family. My dad would have to go to work every day because he was an essential worker and we need the money to live. At the same time, this felt unsafe for us because we feared that he would get COVID and spread it to the rest of the family, especially my new baby sister.
Faith was all we had depended on.
Matthew, Eighth Grade
Favorite idea from Ken Langone: “The three most powerful things in life are a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, and passion and enthusiasm for everything you’re doing.”
I am passionate about playing the violin, studying, and getting good grades in class. I want to be the best I can be and not just try to be the best…I practice my violin for an hour every day. I tend to compete with myself and surpass and be better than I was yesterday. Whenever I play in public, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a big concert hall; on a Zoom meeting; or at home for my family; I give it my best. I play for the younger kids in my family, songs to brighten their confinement since we cannot go outside. I am very happy to see their smiles when they hear a song they recognize or like.
Diem, Seventh Grade
Favorite idea from Ken Langone: “Don’t be negative. Be positive. Think about what can be better, think about how you can make it better, and think about how you can give someone a better day.”
Sometimes, I just go into my parents’ room while my mom is working and check up on her to make sure she feels cared for and appreciated. Other times when her workday ends, she and I take walks in the neighborhood…Having more time to spend with my family has been one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic. Before the pandemic, we used to run around all weekend from one extracurricular activity to another. However, because of COVID-19, we’ve had to slow down. Now on weekends besides running errands, we find parks in New York to have picnics and play basketball with each other. Instead of riding two trains to Chinatown every Sunday afternoon to play violin at orchestra practice, I have a few 30-minute Zooms…
When I don’t have schoolwork or Zoom calls for extracurriculars, I read books or play games. I have even learned how to cook small meals—like mac and cheese or ravioli—because my mom is often busy working when I come home…many things have helped me take my mind off the worry and stress this pandemic brings. I believe that even when the pandemic is over, I will continue to use these coping mechanisms to help me overcome other struggles.
There is so much we want for Tierry, Matthew, Diem, and all the children in our schools right now—from a speedy end to the coronavirus crisis to the fulfillment of the dreams we know their parents had for them long before the pandemic; from faith and friendships to meaningful passions, like the violin playing Matthew and Diem have in common; a well-functioning republic, and healing for some of the deep divisions in the nation they are growing up in.
We may not be able to give them everything we aspire to at the moment. We may be, like Ken Langone, heartbroken. But when we read the empathy, determination, and resilience they and so many young people demonstrate, we cannot help but be inspired. We We cannot help but think, as Langone did, that “it’s going to be hard, but we’re all going to be OK.”
You can see Kevin Stankiewicz’s full interview with Langone here.
You can access highlights of the students’ original interview with Ken Langone here.