Octavious Young says he was 16 when a revelation about his long-lost father’s brutality prompted him to quit school and leave Monroe to live on the streets of Charlotte.
“I asked my mom once why she was always mad at me, even though I cooked and cleaned all the time,” Young recalls. “She told me she hated my father and she saw his face every time she looked at me. What do you say when the person your world revolves around tells you she hates you?”
He says he spent the following six months living out of a car, while working at a Burger King in west Charlotte to earn money for the down payment on an apartment.
It’s easy to imagine his life ending as one of the city’s chronically homeless, addicted and living on the streets until his death. But that’s not how his story ends.
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Young now is 37 and has a home and a family, though the two children he’s raising aren’t his own. They’re a niece and nephew, ages 6 and 9, whom he says he adopted three years ago after his disabled sister lost custody.
The demands of parenting eventually cost Young his full-time job at an assisted-living facility, which is why he recently registered Kenyada and Xzabeon with the Salvation Army’s Christmas program. They’re among 11,300 children registered for free toys, which will be paid for in part by Charlotte Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund. It raised $374,000 last Christmas season.
Both children are big fans of Santa, who brought them a lot of used toys last year. Young, who works part time selling pretzels at a home improvement store, is hoping for better this Christmas. (Last year’s gifts came from a thrift store, he says.) It’s part of a long list of hopes he has for the two, including playing school sports and going on a picnic. He has never been on one himself, so that would be a first for all three.
“I often have people tell me I’m a blessing to these kids, but I quickly correct them and say I’m blessed to be their father,” says Young, admitting it hasn’t been easy. “I went from being a bachelor with no kids to having two people who depended on me completely. I had to learn how to braid a girl’s hair real fast.”
He says he took in the pair at the request of other family members, when it appeared the children were destined for foster care. As for their mother, Young says she lives at a nearby home and he helps manage her finances. The children’s biological father is not part of their lives, he says.
Both kids are healthy and happy, he says, though Kenyada is in therapy to overcome speech problems and post-traumatic stress disorder associated with her past.
Larry Knotts is Young’s older brother, age 42. He says the family is proud of what Young has accomplished and how he has stepped up for the kids. Knotts said he believes this is making his brother a better, stronger man.
“We grew up in a family where there were four kids and it was everybody for themselves,” said Knotts, calling their mother “frequently absent.”
“Octavious was the first to strike out on his own, but when I left, I was homeless for a time, too. He wanted something different for his life. God has given him a chance to help someone else in ways he was never helped. One look in those kids’ eyes and you can see he’s a good father. There’s love there.”
It’s a look both men say they never saw growing up, but Young says Kenyada and Xzabeon represent a new beginning for the family.
“From now on,” Young says, “love is part of our family legacy.”
Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/.
We will publish donor names daily.
The Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers contributed nearly $374,000 to buy needy children gifts for Christmas. All money contributed goes to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families at a vacant department store. The name of every person who contributes to the Empty Stocking Fund will be published on this page daily. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll print that person’s name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.