Stressing “kindness creates kindness, generosity creates generosity and love creates love”, a 51-year-old California law school professor has turned over the keys of his own home to a struggling, single mother of four in hopes his act of selflessness will put the family on a path toward a more secure and stable life of their own.
For the next year and at no cost, Felicia Dukes and her children will take up residency and have sole possession of Tony Tolbert’s abode and all its modest furnishings. Tolbert, meanwhile, plans to move back in with his mother and back into the same bedroom where he was taught the very values now moving him to act as such.
“You don’t have to be a billionaire to do something good for someone else,” the Harvard-educated Tolbert who now teaches at UCLA’s School of Law told CBS News. “You don’t have to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or Oprah. We can do it wherever we are, with whatever we have and for me, I have a home that I can make available.”
Beyond such heartfelt reasoning, Tolbert characterizes his act of civility as a gracious ode to his father, a once well-known entertainment lawyer and a man his son recalls always seemed to have room in his home and space in his heart for the downtrodden. Tolbert insists he can’t recall a single time during his childhood when there wasn’t some non-related person living in the family’s spare bedroom.
“It planted the seed that that’s something you do,” he still reflects. “You take care of other people who are in a position where help is needed. If I say I’m generous… then I should be generous.”
Enter Felicia Dukes and family, whom Tolbert had never met before mercifully opening the doors of his home to them. Prior to that, Dukes and her three youngest children lived in a single occupancy residence at Alexandria House, a shelter which offers such services for women and children only. Thus, during their most grueling ordeal, Duke’s oldest, adult son was not even able to continue residing with the family.
“I got a call they (Alexandria) had a young man that wanted to donate his house for a year,” Dukes recalls. “I’m looking like, What? Are you serious?
Indeed they were, and so was Tony Tolbert, whom the family now reveres as a touched spirit who has utterly given the family a new lease on life.
“My heart just fills up and stuff,” said a teary-eyed Dukes, who officially moved in with her children during the last week of December. “Um … I’m just really happy.” After considering several local facilities through which to find a family, Tolbert settled on Alexandria House after learning of its mission and being impressed with some of the added services its counselors provide for their clients.
Meanwhile, Marie Tolbert has come to expect no less acts of humanity on the part of her only son. “He is so giving, and he’s always been that way,” she said. Again, Tolbert reserves and steers all praise in the direction of his father, Jimmy, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and resides in a nearby nursing home.
No doubt, however, Jimmy Tolbert would be moved to know his son still carries with him some of the most germane and valuable life lessons he ever strived to share with him.
“I think if we can share more stories about people doing nice things for other people, and fewer stories about people doing horrible things to other people, that’s a better world,” said Tolbert, who also recently began studying Tibetan Buddhism.
“A big fundamental concept of Buddhism is creating karma by doing good,” he said. Clearly, that’s not just a theory in the world of Tony Tolbert. No question, he’s internalized and taken all the principles to heart.
Glenn Minnis is a NYC-based sports and culture writer. Follow him on Twitter at @glennnyc.