This week I accepted a life calling into the Gospel ministry 50 years ago. It doesn’t seem that long for me, but it has been a great ride.
Many of the adults who heard my acceptance announcement said they were not surprised. They said they saw it, even if I didn’t see it coming.
While I was born in Monroe, I did not have the luxury of living with my parents. My mother gave me up when I was two years old and left me to the care of my father who was 39 years old running a successful taxi business and other enterprises in the city.
He paid people to keep me and as a result, I lived in seven different households before I was six years old. Each of those households seemed to have a different set of values. Two of them were very religious, and they carried me to either Zion Traveler’s Baptist Church or the Old Bethel Baptist Church on Wood Street.
Another man I lived with taught me not to steal unless something gets stolen from me. Someone stole my cap in the first grade. He made me go back to school and steal someone else’s cap. It became really confusing when I moved to another family who taught me not to steal at all; even if someone steals from you.
By the age of seven, another woman I lived with carried me to Oakland, California. I was mostly raised by the street gangs who educated the little boys on the young thug’s life. They taught me to burglarize houses, fight, steal from stores and how to lie to grown people convincingly by looking them in the eye.
I eventually got caught stealing bicycles and was sentenced to two years in the Alameda County Home for Boys.
It was an experience that I really enjoyed. The reform school had what I didn’t have at home: toys, a play area, television, and people who seemed to be interested in me. I wasn’t someone to be passed off on someone else.
I remember a lady at the center brought each boy a glass of milk each night and graham crackers. She said she believed in us; hugged each boy and led us in saying our prayers.
At age nine they sent me back to Monroe, and I still was unwanted at my mother’s home; my father was making arrangements for people to keep me.
I moved myself into the home of the the people across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt Hill. They belonged to the Tabernacle Baptist Church. The Hills really made an impression on me. They didn’t curse, steal, listen to foul music or engage in gossip. The talked about the Lord and then lived it in front of me.
I was tough to handle. I had never been to the 3rd and 4th grade and they used their influence to get me skipped to the 5th grade at J.S. Clark school with a promise that I would keep up.
The Hills showed me the pictures of their three children on the wall. All three of them were college graduates. They told me if I planned to live in their home, college, not jail had to be my future.
Mrs. Hill forced me to study three hours a day seven days a week, 365 days a year. In the summer I had to study. On school breaks, I had three hours a day. She had two sets of books in her house. The Encyclopedia and a 26 volume set of Bible stories. She made me read each of them repeatedly.
By the time I was 12 I knew every Bible story in the Bible and had long passages of scripture memorized. The problem was, I wasn’t saved. I had no purpose.
I joined the church in November 1959. I accepted Christ and my calling into the ministry in November of 1968.
I was asked to identify what my life ministry would be: I felt called to be an advocate for the poor and less fortunate, and to challenge wrongdoing and hypocrisy in high places. I took a vow of poverty. It was a personal pledge not to seek a profit out of my ministry efforts. I resolved not to ever charge for my services, but to accept whatever is given to me and expect anything promised.
After 50 years in the ministry, I think I have helped a lot of people; I know I have angered the rich and powerful both Black and White.
I’m having the time of my life, with a beautiful wife and family. It’s been a good ride.
I still study, three hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
To God be the glory.