Public Thoughts & Private Schools (Part 1 of 4)

PROLOGUE

In the mid to late 1960’s, a generation of unwitting trailblazers learned to navigate unsure waters and relationships by constructing new bridges built on the hopes and dreams of their parents. In spite of the culture clashes they would experience along the way, they were still expected to make grades indicative of any student who had obtained the privilege to matriculate at such “prestigious” institutions. Yet the effects of these clashes, though varying in intensity, lingered. The results of these socio-intellectual experiments met levels of success that were equally varied but that was to be expected. Change was coming and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.

In June of 1963, Medgar Evers was gunned down in his driveway. In November of that same year President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. On July 2, 1964 the Civil Rights Act was enacted. A little more than six months later, on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was killed. Wednesday evening, April 3, 1968, while speaking to a group assembled at Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. requested that America “be true to what you said on paper”.  Less than twenty-four hours later presidential candidate Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy would help spread word across the nation that Dr. King had been shot dead.  Almost 200 years came and went between the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence and the last words Dr. King would utter in public.

Two months later, in June of ’68, Bobby Kennedy, himself, was killed.  And we were waist deep in the-war-that-wasn’t-a-war that divided our country in ways not seen since the Civil War. It had become crystal clear that change was not high on America’s list of priorities. Our big cities were being destroyed with riots spawned by the outrage of one America that feared change and another America hell bent on assuring its arrival. And in that same year, some seventy-one years after its opening, The Gilman School for Boys (and I will assume schools like it across the county) graduated its first Black students … all four of them. In 1969 we put a man on the moon. And just one year later, in August of 1970, against the backdrop of all the aforementioned, the six year old son of a uniquely radical yet prominent Baltimore City preacher and the secretary for the first Black elected Judge to the Circuit Court of Baltimore City began his first day of private school.

There were revelations and epiphanies galore. Myths were debunked and stereotypes destroyed while new ones were created. Lines were crossed and conclusions were drawn. Feelings were hurt, friends were made, identities were lost … and some were found. But change was coming! There were fights and there were truces; confusion and clarity. There was humor and humiliation. But change was coming! There was confrontation and denial. There were cheers and there was the “gnashing of teeth”. There was Black and there was White. There was Jew and there was Gentile. There was Asian, European, Latino, Mediterranean and Indian. There was gay and there was straight.  And still others who sat on the fence trying to figure all this stuff out. Yet change kept coming! There was teaching and there was learning. There was fear and there was faith that each would grow to recognize the other’s worth. And, thank God, change kept on coming!  Not all experiences were positive and not all were negative but whatever the experience, all lives involved were changed; mine among them.

We were students in these schools at a unique juncture in both America’s history and the history of the schools we were attending. In fact, some of us even made history at these schools. Life’s hard, social lessons and racial tensions were neither part of the curriculum nor were they intentionally exacerbated by the administration, faculty or staff. But it was “out there”. They – social lessons, race and classism – found their way to the playground at recess or the quarter mile jaunt from the lower school to the gymnasium.  Though equality was now a legislative reality, socially it tarried; even, and at times, especially in private schools.

Many, if not all, of us were the first in our family to attend a private school. Our parents stuffed their dreams in our pockets, zipped up their hope in our jackets and sent us on our way – to an academic “promised land” that would all but guarantee a scholarship to “any college we choose”. Some of us were ridiculed in school for being too Black then maligned once more upon our return to our neighborhoods for not being Black enough or “talkin’ white or “thinking you are better than us”. Still others made it through relatively unscathed … or so they’d like to believe.  All in all, our experiences were rich; our stories compelling, empowering and deserved of being told.

(Continued January 9, 2012)

Preparing for the 1st Pilgrimage

If memory serves me correctly Dad went on three (possibly four) pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The first was in February of 1977. He had crammed a lot into his nearly 17 years of pastoring (3.5yrs at Second Baptist Church in Mumford, NY and closing in on 13yrs at Heritage United Church of Christ [HUCC] in Baltimore, MD).

Aside from tasks associated with any pastorate, Dad was working on buying another building to house more ministries that would expand the spiritual footprint of HUCC in Baltimore; he had run an extremely successful campaign (“Crusade” he would call them) but lost the election in 1974. As a child, I did not understand how success and loss could coexist. Thank God for the wisdom that comes with age! His was running on empty. His faith needed refueling. And what better place than the Holy Land?

This journal entry was on the eve of his departure for the first pilgrimage. The reader can’t help but feel his excitement.  At the same time, though never stated, one gets the feeling that he is keenly aware this could be the last time anyone he loves will see him again or vice versa  … making “good-byes” all the more imperative and difficult.

All we knew in 1977 was that the Middle East conflict was constantly in the conflict. Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat were names that appeared in the newspapers daily. It seemed that stories of bombings and assassinations littered the headlines.

As selfish as children can be, I remember not being nearly as worried about Dad’s safe return as I was bothered by the fact that this “pilgrimage” was going to cause him to miss my 13th birthday! I am sure mom was worried enough for the both of us but, true to her characteristic strength, she didn’t let on. She managed a sleepover with four preteen boys and it went off without a hitch … or much in the way of a thank you … so … Thanks, Mom! Oh yeah, the other highlight was a call from Dad – who just happened to be about 7,000 miles away – to wish me Happy Birthday on February 21, 1977. Thanks, Dad!

Peace,

WFP

 

Sunday, February 13, 1977

I’m really excited about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I’m as anxious as a five or six year old on Christmas Eve. I really get spaced out when I contemplate the thought that in a couple of days I actually will walk where Jesus walked! That is fantastic. Though I’ve been wanting to get to Africa, the Holy Land has always been my first preference. Those roots far transcend any other roots I may ever discover. The tracing of one’s roots is great if in that discovering process, one becomes more secure in his “wholeness” and therefore is able to move outside of self into others. If, on the other hand, the process sends on further into self to live, then one need not trace their roots. My pilgrimage to the Holy Land will undoubtedly send me inside self, but only that I might regroup and come out that much more together to serve. This undoubtedly will be the climax experience of my life.

It’s amazing! Thirty years ago, 1947, Dad made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and now I go. The thought gives me peculiar vibes – good vibes however!

As I lay around the day before I left, I became acutely aware of the enormous of love my members and others have for me –I could actually feel the pulling inside when it came time for me to say “good-bye”! I really love those folk – intensely! I guess one never really knows how much others have become a part of him until one withdraws from the scene!

This is also the longest time I’ve been away from Dee and Pooh. It was hard saying goodbye. Pooh is becoming such a fantastically sensitive young man. Dee seemed much more sensitive and caring the last couple of days also.

I touched base with Chan and “J”(ane) – Mom and Dad – Al. Couldn’t locate Tread – Marie was out when I called. I’ll call her from New York City. Porter rode out to the airport with me. We’ve really gotten close since his move to Baltimore. I’ve really developed a great appreciation for Porter. It’s good to see him as happy as he is. He’s been through a helluva lot. I admire his patience and ability to deal with shit from folk who would seek to destroy him. His sensitivity to others is most unusual and seldom seen!

This pilgrimage comes at a most crucial time. I was just beginning to realize how drained I was becoming. Last year was a good but terribly draining year – a real mile marker for me. Chan’s bout with cancer took me through more changes then I’ve ever been through in my life. The thought and dealing with Chan’s death – or the great possibility of it –was scary as hell. I always had a strong desire to want to take his place. I really love that dude, as crazy as he is. It’s strange how Chan’s fight with cancer took me to the lowest part of the valley I’ve ever been -when he passed the six month death date that put me up on top of the mountain.  Everytime I see him, I just quietly thank God for intervening!

I didn’t get the chance to spend time with John and Diane (Eckholdt) as much as I wanted to! Probably it’s because I feel too deeply for them and its difficult saying “goodbye”. I’m as close to them as I am to my family – I really love them. Their love and caring for me since I’ve been to Baltimore has meant much to me and my ministry. Diane’s sensitivity and love for people – her unorthodox life style and her love for me has added great depth to my ministry and, at many times, in my most cynical moments. It’s been her insight and caring that really raised me out of my pit of cynicism. John is to me as a brother. I’d trust either of them with my life. He’s a fantastic person who has grown in his sensitivities by leaps and bounds. It’s not often that one is blessed to encounter those who are consistent in their caring. I thank God for their love!

-WHP-

For Those Who Say There Is No God: Exhibit (A)

This morning was not unlike most mornings. Eugene, called which made me get out of the bed. I was not asleep but like many mornings, Eugene was the first person I spoke to. It is usually a race between Eugene and my daughter, Clarke, to see which one will get me to talk first. He asked if I would ride out with he and his daughter, Lynn, then two-years old, to check out the progress the builders were making on he and his wife’s new home.

It was an overcast day. One of those days it would have been just as easy to roll over, close my eyes and go back to sleep but I was feeling good. It feels good to see friends doing well and “making it happen”. Eugene and Tanya were doing just that as were James and Malone. I am very proud of and extremely happy for both of those families – they are the kind of folk that make me glad that I am a human being. I thank God for the blessing of their friendship. You’ll pardon my digression.

When I got back from hanging out Eugene and Lynn, Ruth and Clarke were literally on their way out the door. Perfect timing! They were off to get their nails done – a necessity for Ruth, a novelty for Clarke. As much as I love family and the idea of “family time”, I really love the occasions when I am by myself. It is at those times that my mind really gets to run wild. It is in those instances that I communicate with God. Through music, writing, being otherwise creative, goofing off or just being quiet and listening to Him or listening for Him. In the space those times afford, things are on my mind; not necessarily troubling things but the kind of things upon which one can ponder while going about mindless chores around the house.

Eugene calling me first thing in the morning prompted me to do the same to another good friend of mine. I called JD and mentioned to him that I had all of these sermon titles rolling over in my head but I needed some hermeneutical “meat” to put on the bones of my titles. It is important to note that though almost all of my male predecessors were ordained ministers I was far from a bible scholar … very far. I knew principles taught in the Bible but couldn’t point you to where to find the support for those principles in the Bible … at least not with any certainty. At the same time, my mind was always full of spiritual thoughts and sermon titles that related to the principles that I knew but needed help finding where those lessons were referenced in the Bible. JD had a great command of scriptures and where to find what in the Bible. He went on to tell the story of how a good minister friend of his had told him he had much promise – in fact, the minister said he believed that JD had even greater promise than he! Part of what JD remembered was a sermon the young minister preached that was directed at the young men who had the energy that was needed in the church but most of those said men had not the time for church. JD said, “I think . . . he said Aaron or something like that . . .”

After we got off the phone, I decided to grab my Bible and look up Aaron. I knew that he was Moses’ brother but that was about it. In my New International Version (NIV) Life Application Bible I read Aaron’s profile. I learned that he was a good team member but not a good leader. The attributes that made Aaron a great team member made him a terrible leader. Aaron was too pliable to lead but if you gave him the words, he could deliver them with great aplomb.

As I was silently reading where to find out more about Aaron in the bible Ruth and Clarke returned from their outing. Normally when Clarke comes in, she will search each room in the house until she finds me – today was no different. She usually just wants to seek me out to make sure that everything is “ok”. Clarke has an extremely strong sense of family for a five year old. Everything is not “ok” unless and until everyone who is supposed to be in the house is actually in the house. Once she is assured of that fact, she feels comfortable enough to go on and do whatever it is five year olds do.

Clarke bounded up the steps and stopped at the threshold of the Master bedroom to find me sitting in the chair, 10 feet away, reading silently about Aaron.

“Hey Daddy, we’re back”, she said. Ignoring the obvious, she asked a quick question almost without pause, “Whatcha doin’?”

With my chin still resting in the palm of my hand, I glanced up to see my five year old ball of energy with her hands gripping either side of the doorframe, kicking her right leg back and forth creating a rhythmic “squeak” each time her sneaker touched the hardwood floor on which she stood.

“Reading”, I answered. I was in the process of flipping to the beginning of Exodus to start reading more about Aaron as most of his story is told in that book of the bible.

Almost as soon as I got to that page, having laid reassuring eyes on me, Clarke, still 8 to 10 feet away from me, turns to leave the room singing in a low, melodic voice, “Let my people goooo!”

“What did you say?!” I barked out the question in disbelief, startling her.

“Let my people go”, Clarke turned around to reply, “Like Moses said in the Prince of Egypt.”

“What made you sing that song?” I calmly asked, accepting what this moment revealed but still pleasantly astonished by the whole event that took all of about 7 seconds. But there was more to come.

“There’s a little fairy saying it in my ear and she told me to say it out loud. She said you needed to hear that song and she told me to sing it to you. They come to me all the time” Clarke said, “now she’s making bird sounds.”


And you still say there is no God?

(Written March 25, 2005)

For Those Who Say There is No God: Exhibit (A) © 2005 by Wendell F. Phillips

What a Difference a Week Makes

Last week I sat in front of my television with my heart full and my eyes glistening with tears as I watched one of the Bible’s renowned stories acted out in real life. The story of the” Good Samaritan” (played by Doral Chenoweth, III) who helped the “poor man on the side of the road” (played by Ted Williams). The “poor man by the side of the road” had been “robbed, beaten and left for dead” (played by life). At that point, the story was inspiring yet in the back of my mind loomed thoughts of a developing cautionary tale that I dared not utter for fear of bringing it to life.

When most of us first met Ted Williams he appeared to have had more than his share of hard times. To his credit he made no excuses about his sordid past. Williams blamed nothing but his bad choices and took full responsibility for his part in his fate. Yet, in spite of nearly a 20 year downward spiral, regardless of how much fire or firewater he sucked down his throat, Ted’s “Golden” voice was spared by the One who gave us all the Golden Rule. And we all got to see it unfold. That was the good news. The bad news? We ALL got to see it unfold.

Many of us relished the opportunity to send up prayers of thanks for the fact that our lives, no matter how disappointing or frustratingly off track, hadn’t gone as far off track as Brother Williams’ had. There were others of us who held hope for humankind in our heart once again. Then came the onslaught of “opportunities” supposedly “for” Ted. I am a man of modest means but I am willing to wager when all is said and done those offering sat around a table and figured out what they stood to gain in ratings and/or publicity by engaging Mr. Williams.

Many organizations came running. Entertainment Tonight and Kraft Foods were names that Williams mentioned in the blizzard of interviews but the one that made me chuckle was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Desperate for a public relations win after the team’s owner, Dan Gilbert, talked about LeBron James “deserting” Cleveland in a manner that made me feel he thought LeBron James belonged to him, the benevolent and loving Cleveland Cavaliers offered Ted Williams a job with the organization as Announcer.

Reality hastened to the fore quickly with the timed-release introduction of Williams’ family members. The reunion with his mother, Julia, seems that it could have happened any time as they were both in Ohio. That was a flag for me. Ted Williams was long-lost to his family emotionally but not geographically. It appeared that their estrangement was rooted in years of broken dreams, promises and hearts that resulted in more of a writing off than being physically “lost”. Nevertheless, the pain and frustration of some of Williams’ family members was palpable.

On one of Ted’s television appearances with his mother she spoke of him being good hearted but “weak” and easily lead astray. She told stories of her grandchildren telling her they had seen Ted standing on the corner with a sign. Sounds like Ted had probably worn out his welcome and the only love left was the tough love that a mother employs when her heart can’t stand to be broken any more. The broken promises and fulfilled lies are life companions of an addict. Picture Samuel L. Jackson as “Gator Purify” and Ruby Dee as “Lucinda Purify” in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever or Christian Bale’s “Dickie Eklund” and Melissa Leo’s “Alice Ward” in The Fighter. Ted Williams doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as violent or delusional as “Gator” or “Dickie” but his mother seems to be tougher than either “Lucinda” or “Alice”.

As wonderful as the Good Samaritan part of this story is there are children who had become accustomed to their father not being there who now – prayerfully – will be able to muddle through all of the hurt and anger and come out on the other side whole. There are grandchildren who may have never met their grandfather and those who have that may have never seen him sober. Trust will need to be reestablished and that is among the steepest mountains that Ted will have to climb … and it should all be done out of the public eye.

Brother Williams will need our prayers more than our adulation. He will receive many things that are beyond his ability to handle presently. Most of what he has been given has been charity which, if we are honest, does more for the giver than the receiver. Be that as it may, I am cautiously optimistic for Ted. The road to recovery is uphill, dark and bumpy but it is, indeed, with the proper assistance navigable and conquerable. May God bless Ted Williams, his family and his millions of brothers and sisters the world over.

Take your time, Ted. We’ll be here.

What a Difference a Week Makes © 2011 by Wendell F. Phillips

All in the Blink of an Eye

 

I was really feeling my father today.

He weighed heavy on my spirit. 

It isn’t his birthday

Nor is it

The anniversary of his death.

True, Father’s Day was last week but

Since I have become a father

The focus has shifted …

I am the one who gets the praise

At least, directly …

So what gives?!?

I didn’t know …

Couldn’t stop crying

Not Boo-Hooing

Not the ugly cry

Just the quiet tears that travel from the heart

To the brain then

Stream down a straight face

The cleansing tears

 

I thought I even saw him today

Though he’s been gone for almost

18 years

I thought I saw him!

Hmpf … funny … I see my grief

Has almost reached adulthood.

Couple more years and I’ll have to call it

“Mister” Grief …

Gotta give ‘em his respect.

But I don’t have to give ‘em my power.

Or my joy.

So today!

Smack! Dab! In the middle of the day

I put

EveryTHING

EveryONE

On hold

To take my oldest daughter to the movies.

She deserved it

A father could ask for nothing more in

or from a daughter.

 

 

But Dad still weighed on me.

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing him …

Like he’s slipping away from me …

The vicissitudes of life cause him to

Fall from my mind

Albeit momentarily

Yet I still feel guilty about it

Though I know that I have done nothing wrong …

 

But Then…

He showed up! 

I saw him in the reflection

When I glanced

Ever so quickly

 in my daughter’s eye …

And he was me.

He showed up in the eyes of a child

Who has never laid eyes on him …

Just to let me know

He loves me.

Still.

 

All in the Blink of an Eye © 2010 by Wendell F. Phillips

 

The Audacity to Adopt

The recent tragedy in Haiti has no doubt seized our attention while simultaneously tugging at our heart and purse strings. And rightfully so. As I watched the news reports and looked at the devastation I began to wonder … what will happen to the Black children who have lost all they have ever known … including their parents?  

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Well, is it just me or is anyone else noticing the apparent absence of Black couples adopting these displaced Haitian children? I figure that most of these children and adoption cases were already in the pipeline and the conditions since the earthquake have helped expedite things but … DAYUM! They make it seem like you can just go to the store, sign a paper and they will deliver your little Haitian child “within 7-10 business days or if you are an Amazon Prime customer you can get him or her overnight”! Of course I’m being facetious and the issue is indeed a serious one but if my eyes (and the media) aren’t deceiving me a few questions for us all to ponder rush to mind:

1) Why aren’t any Black folk shown adopting these Haitian children?

2) Why are White folk so quick to adopt these Haitian children?

3) Why aren’t more folk from any group adopting the Black children from the foster care system right here in America?

Each question begets yet another but to be fair this issue of adoption has been around for decades and Black children right here in America could use some love.

Note to Reader:  This writer sees the issue of Race in just about everything. Of course I am aware of and recognize all people of color but my default is Black & White. Over the years that has been the most volatile and contentious relationship. And if we get that one right, the others will be a piece of cake. In fact, whenever I am accused of “playing the Race Card “, I always let folk know that I didn’t deal the hand. It has been my experience that if you ask “why?” long enough eventually it will come down to Race.  And if it is between or amongst people of the same color, Class becomes the issue. But we can argue about that in another post at another time.

It would seem that White folk are comfortable as can be adopting children of any color, from anywhere – Asia, India, Haiti … hell, even Africa (Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Madonna come to mind most immediately). But what’s wrong with the Black children that grew up right here in America; the little Black children born here in our cities; the little Black children who live in group homes that none of us seem to want in our neighborhoods; with parents who were born here … but for whatever reason couldn’t handle raising such a gift?

With instances such as these it’s tough to holler “RACE” because Black folk make it easy for White folk to say, “Forget it”.  I have heard Black folk say, “Who do they think they are? How are White folks going to raise Black children? They have no idea what it’s like to be Black”! And maybe they don’t … but they don’t know what it’s like to be Asian, Indian, Haitian or African either. And wouldn’t a better question be centered on whether or not the adopters were emotionally, physically and financially able to provide a loving home for the adoptees? Or another question is why aren’t the people asking adopting? Some have gone so far as to compare this scenario of White folk adopting Black children as sort of a soft genocide, if you will. For the record, this writer happens to find that declaration a wee bit dramatic though I understand the thinking that brings the opponents to this conclusion.

In its 1994 position paper entitled, Preserving Families of African Ancestry, The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) makes the following assertion:

“transracial adoption of an African-American child should only be considered after documented evidence of unsuccessful same race placements has been reviewed and supported by appropriate representatives of the African-American community”.  

Proponents of transracial adoption believe this represents a somewhat softer point of view, claiming that the NABSWs 1972 stance came closer to the soft genocide statement. Nevertheless the point is the NABSW suggests that Black children adjust/develop/respond better with Black families. That sounds sound. But let’s look at some numbers in an article from www.adoption.com :

“Opponents of race matching contend that the numbers now seem stacked against the possibility of same-race adoptions. Of the estimated 500,000 children in the U.S. foster home system, more than half are minorities. Of those available for adoption, 40 percent are black, although blacks represent only about 13 percent of the general population. What is more, according to the National Adoption Center, which keeps track of so-called hard-to-place children, about 67 percent of such children are black and 26 percent are white, while 67 percent of the waiting families are white and 31 percent are black.”

Now I am sure there will be those who will read this and say, “My family adopts … in fact, they adopted me!” and they will go down a list that reads like that fifth chapter of Genesis in the Bible inserting “adopt” for every “begat”. And while that is good for that particular family, that family and those like it are the exception and not the rule. So if you are among those who feel I am “preaching to the choir”, based on the aforementioned numbers, I humbly submit that the choir ain’t singin’! In the passage quoted above it would appear that we will soon have far more Black children needing to be adopted right here in America and not enough Black families to adopt them all. So who picks up the slack? Is it better for them to grow up devoid of many cultural customs or do we leave them to languish until they age out of a troubled foster care system feeling more and more unworthy as years go by?  Or am I oversimplifying?

Beyond the issues already discussed I am sure there are economic factors to consider as well. Adopting is an intense, expensive endeavor and the legal process is as lengthy as it is costly. I have often wondered about adoption. Could I make a difference? Sure. Could I handle it financially? Less sure. But perhaps somebody out there is ready and this is just the catalyst they need to begin to get the process started. Maybe there are those out there who don’t have kids or for whatever reason are unable to conceive. Maybe you have enough love, energy and desire stored up in your home. Go ahead … make a difference … I dare ya!

The Audacity to Adopt © 2010 by Wendell F. Phillips

Standing In The Need … (A Spiritual Autobiography)

1.
Not My Mother …

My mother first met the idea of her spirituality in Rochester, New York at an Episcopalian church and she is a woman of strong faith. While there may be those who consider that statement oxymoronic I would dare you to meet my mother. Her mother, Cecile, worked as a domestic and was a faithful member of a Baptist church in Rochester. My mother’s father, John, worked during the week as a lumberjack in Canada and came home to Rochester at the week’s end. From what I can gather, he did not have much time for church or the spiritual life. That is not to say that he did not believe in “spirits.” In fact, he devoted much of his life to spirits – distilled – but spirits nonetheless. It soon became apparent that a spirit-filled life and a spiritual life do not always equal a match made in heaven and so in the early 1940’s my grandparents parted ways. John went his way and Cecile, with her two daughters, June and my mother, Dorothy, went another.

Some time later Cecile met and married Earl, a God-fearing, fun-loving, hard-working Red Cap (the railroad’s equivalent of an airport’s Sky Cap) who came to Rochester, New York from Atlanta, Georgia. It was Earl who was the member of the Episcopalian church. It was Earl who attended church with his stepdaughter, Dorothy, and as fate would have it my mother became responsible for taking her little sister, Yolanda, the child from Cecile and Earl’s union, to church with her. It was in this church that my mother began to tone her spiritual muscle.

Married life became rocky. Children are seldom concerned with the “whys” for they are not as important as trying to cope with everyday life and getting through each day. John, June and Dorothy’s biological father, was not around and had not been in the picture for quite some time. June, the older sister, began to act out. There was constant tension between June and their mother Cecile. Once again the “whys” held no import. Yolanda, the youngest of the trio, seemed to fair a little better. Unlike June and Dorothy, her father was in the home and while she and Cecile had their difficulties there was only so much that could be done to her for “Daddy” was ever present. Cecile and June however, was another story entirely.

Dorothy was the classic “middle child;” quiet, introverted and with the exception of her height and pleasant look, easy to miss. If life was a movie, then she would more likely be cast as an extra as opposed to the star. She loved both her sisters equally but lived life as a spectator observing the different ways similar outbursts between here two sisters were handled. More often than not it was Dorothy who cared for Yolanda as she was more than a decade older. She held Yolanda’s hand as they crossed the streets to go the church.

The sanctuary never held truer meaning than for Dorothy. It was in this safe place that Dorothy began to beseech God. It was in this place where her personal “whys” were pondered but refuge for all was requested. While in her home, Dorothy’s faith was constantly tested but in her church with her God she found a mighty sustenance that made the daily discomforts of life seem almost bearable.

Dorothy seemed to go through life without a great amount of risk or chance taking. To her, God was, is and forever will be a sure thing. There was no sense in seeking something or someone greater because there was no such thing or being. Pressing one’s luck did not make much sense to her. If I am painting the picture that my mother was boring, then I have done her a huge injustice. She was then and remains resolute, resilient and consistent – qualities not found in great abundance today. Mom has a self determination that to me, as her son, is at times maddening and refreshing at once. I have come to believe that those qualities are not only gifts from God. Each time she relies on those gifts she feels that she is honoring a God who loved her enough to give those gifts; she knows God is watching and it is her desire to please her God.

To this day Dorothy does not wear her faith on her sleeve. Her faith is not something that she has to show you or me anyway. Her faith is reserved for her God. It is not a faith that you see with your eye but rather a faith that you feel when you are in her presence. I can remember hearing her faith in an answer to a question that some theologian may have expounded upon for hours. I asked her, “How and/or why do people who seem to never get a break in life keep coming to church and why is their faith so strong?” In what appeared to be no time at all, she exposed my lack of faith and demonstrated the strength of the convictions she had learned as a child. Her reply was unassuming, simple and quick, “God said our reward is in Heaven. So we really shouldn’t be expecting too much here on earth. That is why anything that we do get while here is considered a blessing and we should be thankful for it.”

As a child, Dorothy learned there was a loving, forgiving, providing God. She believed it wholeheartedly and would come to lean on the strength that the phrase held repeatedly throughout her life.

2.
…Not My Father…

My father’s introduction to spirituality was more of an immersion. He was the next to the last child of Porter, Sr. and Dorothy’s (coincidently the same name as my mother) six (6) children. Porter, Sr. was the pastor of a Baptist church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dorothy kept the household going and also printed the bulletins for Sunday service, typed Porter Sr.’s sermons, taught Sunday school and as if all that was not enough, she was the organist for Sunday service. Of the six (6) children, there were five (5) boys, four (4) of whom were ordained Baptist ministers. The only girl married an ordained minister.

My father, Wendell, grew up under the teachings of Porter, Sr., a devout Christian and probably the holiest man I will ever have the pleasure of meeting. He was a preacher whose trajectory suggested that he was on his way to becoming a member of the Academy. He was an educated man who, in 1941, was already in possession of two graduate degrees, was working on his doctorate and had published a book entitled, W.W. Brown, Host. From the time I met him, Grandpa’s life was completely given over to “his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” He had never been to a movie theater, believed in hard work and providing for his family, and above all, serving God always in all ways. He was not overly involved with the day to day workings of maintaining the family, which was my grandmother, Dorothy’s job and she handled it quite well seemly loving every minute of it. Porter, Sr. seemed to always be focused on the next sermon. As soon as Grandpa came home from church he immediately retreated upstairs to his study to begin researching and writing his sermon for the next Sunday. He did that for close to fifty (50) years.

There was never any question of whether or not you were going to church. It was understood and expected. If there was the infrequent occasion where one of the children found themselves too sick to go to church (or school for that matter), then the remedy was always Castor Oil. To listen to my father tell the story, it would appear that Castor Oil was quite a drug. The mere mention of its prescription seemed to miraculously cure all who even thought they were ailing.

Young Wendell grew up witnessing the works of his father firsthand. Dad would often remark that his father was “the best sermon he had ever seen”. To Porter, Sr. the way to “God’s Kingdom” was through service and sacrifice. On those terms there was no wiggle room.

Though my father was ordained a Baptist minister, he was called by the newly formed Northwest Congregational Church in Baltimore, Maryland in 1964 – I was seven months old. That church later became Heritage United Church of Christ. The UCC appealed to my father because it gave the congregation a voice. Directives were not merely handed down from a larger, governing body or dictated by some demagoging pastor. The UCC invited people from all denominations to participate. It allowed a pastor’s creativity to flourish. The pastor could work with the congregation and vice versa. The people had a say in what they would do as a “body of Christ.” My father believed in God and religion, but he had grown weary of denominations and their doctrines. He was felt that the denominations did more to divide churches as opposed to providing cohesion.

My father strongly believed that God was either God of all or he was not God at all. Consequently, there was no place where God’s word was not sovereign even if it was not welcomed, including the political arena. He learned this lesson from watching his older brother, Channing, who was the pastor of Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ when he became the first Black to be nominated for President of the United States of America by a major political party from the floor of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Dad consistently put his faith into action. As an entrepreneur, he opened a religious bookstore and card shop in the neighborhood. When I questioned the logic, he would just reply with, “The community needs this.” I did not understand. I thought the purpose of going into business was to make money and “the community” could certainly use a record shop. He ran for public office and was the first minister to be elected twice to terms in the Maryland General Assembly amid cries from some that the political arena was “no place for a pastor.” He went on to become the first Black to chair Baltimore City’s Legislative Delegation and in the mid 1980’s helped to deliver more money to Baltimore City than had ever been delivered before. He did these things and many more based solely on the beliefs imparted to him by his father and mother. Without question, my father was the greatest sermon that I ever saw.

3.
…But It’s Me, Oh Lord …

As you have probably been able to discern, my story is not the story of someone who has constantly toiled through life. It is not the story of one who did without the “finer things”. It is not the story of one whose parents were scattered about by lofty ideals or haunted by the lack thereof. Not to in any way belittle the situation or the powerful witness that these stories contain but mine is not the story of a “black boy from the tough, inner city, raised by a single-mother” or grandmother because his father was not there or both parents were strung out on drugs, incarcerated or some seemingly insurmountable combination of the two. And though “some of my best friends” have come from those realities, I thank the Lord that I did not. My parents provided everything I needed. I did not have to “do without.” Nevertheless, my life has not been without struggle… beautiful struggle.

It may come as a surprise that though I grew up around so many ministers I really do not know much about the Bible. My lessons usually came from watching great people who I have encountered attempt to live out lessons from the Bible. From those observations I have tried – for the most part – to live my life adhering to what I feel are the two most important lessons in the Bible: 1) place no one and no thing above God; for there is no one greater and, 2) “Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do so unto me.”

While my parents grew up in different types of homes I benefited from the main thing they held in common – their sense of spirituality. My parents seemed to recognize that it takes a certain amount of introspection to unravel the questions related to one’s spirituality. No matter how one grows up there must be something on the inside that helps determine one’s path. Unlike me, my parents both had siblings. In my mother’s instance, she chose a different path then her sisters. In my father’s situation he chose the same (or very similar) paths of his siblings. My mother and father found each other and I was able to benefit from both of their strengths regarding spirituality. My mother’s quiet, reserved dutiful but unshakable faith coupled with my father’s “faith in action” afforded me the best of both worlds with regards to spiritual teachings.

4.
… Standing In The Need Of Prayer.

On January 29, 1993 my father died suddenly. Needless to say my world was rocked; shaken to the core. My mother and I were devastated. Dad was everything to both of us and a whole church and surrounding community grieved with us. Had you asked me prior to his death how I would live without him, I would have told you that I could not. Almost seventeen (17) years later I am still here. I have two daughters to whom I am teaching the spiritual lessons taught to me by my parents and in that way he lives on through me and now to them. Though I did not think that I was ready for him to be gone it seems that Dad had helped fortify me with most of the tools needed to survive. My mother has lent to me some of her remarkable strength to help balance out the equation.

I struggle sometimes with the inevitability of death and, at times, when my faith is low, the finality of death. But then I am reminded that when a caterpillar “dies” a butterfly is born. Through my spirituality I have come to accept that once a person has learned all they need to learn or taught all they need to teach their work on this earth is done and whether we know it or not we will be ready.

As I stated earlier, my journey to this point has not been without struggle. When you are born with the same name as your father society immediately relegates you to forever stand cold in his shadow and I am sure the same holds true for women and their mothers. It matters not if people speak well or ill of him your place remains unchanged. You inherit all of his enemies and half of his friends and the struggle to define yourself – at times for the sake of others and at other times in spite of others – begins.

I never felt that my parents forced religion or spirituality on me. Yes I had to go to church but I never felt that I “had to” attend church. I went along with what people expected the PK (Preacher’s Kid) to do with regard to griping about “having to” go to church but the truth of the matter is that I really enjoyed “living” in church. I learned some of the best lessons that could have ever been taught, met some of the greatest people God’s ever created, laid down some of the heaviest burdens, cried some of the most cleansing tears and experienced some of the most outrageous joy. I remain in the process of becoming. My spiritual growth is a work in progress and I may never get it right, but I thank God for each opportunity that I have to do so, for without God, I am nothing.

Standing in the Need … (A Spiritual Autobiography) © 2009 by Wendell F. Phillips

Hello World

No one has ever told me to write a disclaimer but being a student of the world I am sure that there may be something I “say” that will offend some and whether it be intentional or unintentional I ask that you wait a second before judging. If you can’t say “Amen!” then just say “ouch” but by all means … say something!   My reference to the word “world” means everybody who inhabits this planet. So while I may not be included in your world, you are all included … in fact, welcome, in mine.

I am the son, grandson, nephew and cousin of pastors so you will pardon my religious references … or not.  I also find some degree of humor where there should be none. I can find some humor in almost anything. I have come to find that to be a blessing as well as a curse but most often a blessing.

I know the audience is broad – I hope it remains that way. That being said, I know not everyone believes the same thing and there will even be those who find it hard to believe at all. But it is my desire to use this blog to help us come to our similarities through our differences … leaving us all a little more tolerant and much, much stronger.

These are my lenses … welcome to my world!

P.S. For those of you who need to know a little more … keep readin’.

Wendell F. Phillips is the only child of Dorothy A. and the late Rev. Wendell H. Phillips. He came to NC A&T State University and Greensboro in July of 2007. As the Director of State and Community Relations, his primary responsibility is to help develop and maintain positive relationships between the university and various State and local elected officials as well as community organizations throughout the greater Greensboro area.

Politics, community and service are the consistent threads that have run through the fabric of Wendell’s family. His father, the late Rev. Wendell H. Phillips was not only an ordained Baptist minister and the founding pastor of Heritage United Church of Christ but he also served as a representative in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1979 – 1987. His uncle, the late Rev. Channing E. Phillips was not only a pastor at Lincoln Temple United Church of Christ but he was also the first African-American to be nominated by a major party for President of the United States of America from the floor of the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Wendell’s passion has always been helping anyone and especially “the least of these”. He channeled his passion through a well fueled campaign that won him the same seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. As a member from 1999-2003, Wendell served on the Ways and Means Committee and chaired its Business Tax Credits Workgroup. He was also a member of the Tax & Revenue subcommittee and the Education subcommittee.

Other committees on which Wendell has served are: the Governor’s Task Force to Study Educational Programs for Chronically Disruptive Students, as well as the Task Force for African-American Entrepreneurship. Mr. Phillips also chaired the Legislative Black Caucus’ committees for Judicial Appointments and its Civil Rights committee.

Mr. Phillips was named a 2001-2002 Flemming Fellow by the Center for Policy Alternatives as well as a 2001 Toll Fellow by the Council of State Governments where Wendell was one of forty (40) individuals from across the country designated as an up and coming “young leader of tomorrow” recognized for his outstanding achievement and service to state government. Wendell is also a 2008 graduate of Leadership Greensboro and a member of the Greensboro Partnership’s Governmental Affairs Committee.

He was a member of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ Committee on Elementary & Secondary Education and in 2001 the organization released its first white paper, Closing the Achievement Gap: Improving Educational Outcomes for African American Children.

Wendell’s creative tribute to Michael Jackson was published on BET.COM and after the tragic earthquake in Haiti, his article entitled “The Audacity to Adopt” was featured on Blackpressusa.com and as a result carried by various media outlets across the country. He is a co-author of Atonement: The Million Man March and landed a featured extra role as one of the Golden Lords in Robert Townsend’s 1993 motion picture, Meteor Man. With the ability to find humor in just about any situation, Wendell tried his hand at amateur stand-up comedy and hosted Open-Mic nights throughout the Baltimore metropolitan area.

He is a graduate of Baltimore City College High School and Morgan State University (B.A., Political Science). He is married with two lovely daughters.

Hello World © 2009 by Wendell F. Phillips