And so I called Antoine, and later had the great pleasure of meeting him in his native city of Philadelphia, where hearing his story convinced me that 10-10-10 can work effectively in ways and places I had never imagined.
Raised by a single mother in a neighborhood of housing projects, Antoine stopped going to school in seventh grade, and was eventually moved into foster care, where he was bounced among five different families. His days were often lonely, filled mainly with television-watching alone; he missed his siblings painfully. But perhaps the most defining experience of Antoine's life was the realization, at age thirteen or fourteen, that he wasn't like anyone he knew. Not just because he was gay, but because he was so unrelentingly optimistic. Even with all its harshness, the world could be a better place, Antoine believed, if people just stopped hurting each other.
A few months before my article was published, Antoine was hired to work at one of the state's busiest welfare offices, greeting clients and directing them through the application process. The idea of helping people in need thrilled him at first. But his excitement soon turned to despair. All around him every day, he saw his coworkers address the people coming into the office rudely and dismissively. "Applying for welfare usually happens at your lowest moment in life. There is so much shame in it," he told me. "The system is supposed to be about lifting people up, not breaking them more."
One night after work, Antoine wrote an impassioned manifesto about the ways he thought office protocol should change. They were fighting words, he knew, and when he showed them to his sister Tiffany, she gently tried to warn him off. "Everyone is going to hate you, Antoine," she said.
For the next few hours, Antoine sorted through the 10-10-10 consequences of presenting his proposal at work. In ten minutes, he reasoned, there would be hell to pay. He had expressed his views to his coworkers already, and they'd brushed him off. Their message, as he heard it, was "Stop rocking the boat."
In ten months, Antoine predicted, the contentiousness with his colleagues would surely remain, or even worsen, as he refused to back down from his role as the office cop. On the other hand, if Antoine stayed mum, he worried that a crushing sense of hypocrisy would likely be destroying him inside. Neither option appealed. But Antoine's path of action became clear as soon as he considered the ten-year scenario. "I realized I was absolutely willing to take the heat—and I even wanted to take it—for the chance to improve the welfare system of this state," he said. "All I could think was, 'If not me, who?' Someone has to lead change, even on the lowest rungs of the ladder."
The next day, Antoine met with his boss to describe his concerns about the cynicism that pervaded the office and the mistreatment of its patrons. She received his manifesto very positively, he recalls. But after she brought it to a meeting with the whole staff, Antoine's coworkers, as expected, started to freeze him out.
Rather than manage the mess, Antoine's boss asked him if he would be willing to be transferred to another welfare office across town.