8/21/2012 5:53 PM ET|
Young, resolute and ready to vote
Life in Port Arthur has beaten down many of the Texas town's residents. But not college student William Bailey, who has a plan and a mission to help his hometown.
William Bailey, 18, of Port Arthur, Texas
For as long as 18-year-old William Bailey can remember, his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, has looked and felt like a place of hardship.
The downtown had been abandoned for the far-flung strip malls years before he was born. When he was a boy, air in the Gulf Coast industrial town sometimes smelled of rotten eggs -- sulfur from refinery emissions. Growing up, he heard neighbors talk about getting laid off, about trying to pay bills, about whom to blame.
And, for whatever reason, Bailey became a good listener.
"My father taught me to respect and learn about other people's feelings: 'Not everything's about you.' And when he showed me that, and I finally understood that, I took it to heart," he said. "I was like, 'OK I've got my problems, but some people have got it worse than me. So I'll keep my head up. And for people that've got it worse than me, I'll talk to them, try to figure out why they have it so bad and how can I help them.'"
When Bailey speaks, he does so with the calm, measured assuredness of someone who has had several decades to grow comfortable in his own skin. One hardly doubts that Bailey will stick to his long-range goals, even though he only just finished his first year away at college.
His plan is to get a Ph.D. in psychology (he's an incoming sophomore at Texas Southern University, in Houston) and open a mental-health clinic in Port Arthur. ("The bird never flies too far from the nest. You always have to come back," he said.)
"I believe that the reason why Port Arthur is the way that it is is because people, they have nobody to talk to," he said. "They need someone to vent to and express their problems to.
"These jobs, these refineries, they just pick up people, lay them off, without understanding what's really going on in their lives," he said. "Now they're hunting for a job and taking care of the children, or they have kids in middle school and barely see them, or they're taking care of other family members. It's always something. It's always something. Some kind of adversity."
That constant stress chisels away people's hope, he said.
"Either they really have nothing to fight for or they don't see what to fight for," Bailey said. "Times (have) been so hard for so long, how are things supposed to change?"
Bailey sees the same resignation manifested as political apathy, among both adults in Port Arthur and fellow students at his Houston college, where talk about the presidential candidates is scant.
"If I talk to any of my colleagues, or I talk to any other adults, besides my parents, you wouldn't even know a presidential election is going on right now," he said. "You don't even know that Obama and (Republican presidential candidate Mitt) Romney are fighting right now. If you say Romney, they look at you like, 'Who's that?'"
Bailey will be voting for the first time, and will punch his ticket for President Barack Obama.
Obama, he said, is fighting to improve people's lives and to help Americans be healthy, both physically and mentally.
"Romney, I don't see what he's trying to do. It's just, 'Whatever President Obama says, I'm going to shoot it down,'" Bailey said. "Obama is shooting to help me."
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