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)

“I’m at a ‘Cross-Roads’, God!”

This letter to God is an example of Dad’s unceasing prayer. He would constantly speak with God, question Him and even get angry with Him but he always loved Him. While deeply personal, I share this letter not as a betrayal of his privacy but rather a blessing to those of us who may find ourselves stumbling in a similar “cross-roads” experience and to offer a Pastor’s point of view. We seldom wonder or care what they may be thinking or feeling. What do you do when all that you are faced with … when all that God is directing you to goes against all of your personal history, experience and knowledge?

Because I happen to know how this particular story ends I will tell you that the church did buy the property and it did start many ministries that enhanced many and even saved some lives. It was called The Park Community Center (commonly referred to as “Park”).  It was an outreach ministry of Heritage United Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland. After about a 15 year run, the building was sold to what became Parklane Baptist Church.

During the time it was part of Heritage, it was many things to many people. First and foremost, it put life in a building that would have otherwise been abandoned. It was primarily a recreation center located at 3606 Mohawk Avenue in northwest Baltimore City but it was also 1) a safe haven that kept teenagers off the streets and out of trouble 2) A Summer Camp 3) A Saturday Afternoon “theater” for Movies [shown by the Pastor – complete with candy and popcorn] 4) Campaign Headquarters for various campaigns 5) The Way Inn [Coffee House Ministry] and 6) A location for church picnics, parties and family fun nights

I have great memories of Park Community Center and the lives touched and changed therein. I thank Dad for hanging in there! I thank him for his faith amidst the naysayers and the gnashing of teeth … the fighting with himself and the wrestling with his God. Dad was a visionary but, as you will find in the letter, being a visionary ain’t always easy because you are seeing what others can’t or won’t see. Enjoy and be blessed.

 

 

The wisdom of my giving the totality of my life to pastoring has been called into question, God!

I seem to be at a cross-roads in my ministry. On the one hand God, I’m pastoring a congregation of good, affluent people – nice folk who are relatively warm, biblically illiterate, cautious in the faith and skeptical about even Your leadership, let alone mine. I can sympathize in part God, for they are also insecure in so many ways due to attempts to overcompensate for their insecurities. But God, I love them. Intimacy frightens them as it does most people.  On the other hand, I am also pastoring a community of alienated, oft times hostile teenagers, whom I also love dearly – this is my Park (Community Center) ministry.

Now, You’ve given me an opportunity to marry the “haves” with the “have-nots”. God, this seems worse than a shotgun wedding! Mission is secondary to the age old bastion of selfishness  and the “what about me/us?” mindset. “If we purchase ‘that property’ (instrument of mission) what will happen to our ‘home’ (Heritage) … we can’t pay for that!”

The recklessness and excitement and challenge to their faith gets no hearing at all. The prayerful deliberation with You seems to not be needed in financial matters – God, they attempt to weigh finances with human lives – and of course You know which wins –

God, open our eyes that we may see the need … to launch out in the depths where the hurt is the greatest – the risk, the costliest … that our dependence upon You might grow to the point where we recognize that it is a necessity – not an appendage.  Are you putting me to a test God? Is this another Baptism by fire?

My patience oft times runs short and I sometimes feel the church is a stumbling block for me. So much energy is wasted fighting dumb battles which have no bearing on ministry and mission at all! Is that the way I’m to spend the rest of my life, God? It hurts. I’m tired – I know You must be tired of us God.

God help me to be still

And listen –

To seek Your counsel –

The wisdom to know the difference

Between my wants and Your demands –

The difference between my people’s fears

And Your warnings.

 

Grant us all openness of mind

A quickening of the spirit-

A sensitivity of the heart

And a restlessness of the soul

That we might become better discerners of Thy Will.

Amen!

 

-Rev. Wendell H. Phillips-

The Pregnant Girl

After my father’s death in 1993 I found some of his old writings, thouhgts and insights in the unfinished journals he left behind. Before his death I used to dismiss his writing as “chicken scratch” … I couldn’t read it at all! But after he died, miraculously, I could understand his writings … because I needed to.

Written hurriedly with his left-hand … pages partially filled with small, tight, stingy letters that handwriting experts would likely tell you is exemplary of a selfish person … but I submit it was from a man with the largest heart I will ever know … whose thoughts just happened to form faster than his pen could move. He would always say, “Boy … wait ‘til I write my book!” but, alas, he never got the chance.

I found answers to questions long pondered and sauve for wounded souls in his prophetic words. I thought here would be a safe place to posit some of his thoughts and share his writings with the world as he shared himself. This unnamed poem – that I’ve decided to entitle, The Pregnant Girl – written some 30 years ago is one such example.

 

 

I met a pregnant girl today,

Who seemed so sad inside;

I asked myself, “Why should this be?

On the eve of the birth of her child?”

 

And then I thought as I watched her eyes,

Once filled with joy but now tears

Things have been rough with her delicate heart,

Especially the last few years!

 

She’s torn between a love once felt,

And what her mind screams in her ear;

“It’s over now! To hope is futile!”

My God! Why won’t she hear?!

 

Perhaps the birth of a new life begun,

Will give her the strength she needs

To face reality – and leave him alone,

And surround the babe with good seeds.

 

She’s changed from the girl I once knew,

Who lived, loved and really swung!

And now she’s sad, burdened and troubled,

As if an albatross around her neck has been hung!

 

The marriage ended before it began,

For no foundation was there from the start;

She thought she could change the one she loved,

But they’re only much further apart!

 

God is no fool! He demands the best,

From her, whom He’s given much,

She is destined for so much more in life,

Than to be a useless crutch!

 

I pray she’ll awaken, get hold of herself,

And prepare herself for her child;

Do now what’s best for the unborn babe,

Stop saying, “I can’t” for awhile.

 

The pregnant girl is sad, I know,

Her heart is broken and bruised;

Her cheeks are worn with hurting tears,

And her whole young life is confused!

 

And so I watch her in her struggle,

To break the chains that bind;

Her to her own self-made prison,

Where she now has lived for some time!

 

So now I say, Oh babe, yet unborn,

My heart goes out to you,

I pray the pregnant girl I saw today,

Will become the girl I once knew!

 

She’s leaving now – walks out the door,

An escape she hopes to find;

A walk – a talk – a word – a thought …

“Lord, please keep me off my mind!”

 

-Rev. Wendell H. Phillips-