For as long as I can remember there have been conversations and theories about the intractable poverty of Black Americans. We have offered up numerous facts and statistics which endeavor to explain this seemingly inevitable and permanent condition.
The political party in power and the institutional racism in the American culture are some of the reasons mentioned. I do not deny that external conditions can influence behavior and circumstances, but they cannot determine your destiny. Successful people understand as long as we live there will be obstacles to overcome.
I refuse to accept or believe this hopeless state because of what I have learned, seen or heard from the people I have known.
An old lady made a very astute response to the biblical verse, “The poor will always be amongst us.”
“True, she replied, but they do not always have to be the same people.” People are where they are because they have decided to be there.
Facts and circumstances are only constant and inevitable until a man or woman decides to change them. Moreover, when you establish a relationship with God, change and miracles must and will happen. History has taught me when a man does business with God, he will do the impossible.
Meet Terrell Matthews: A Real Life Miracle
I would like to introduce you to Terrell Matthews born over 60 years ago in a small nondescript town called Ozark, Alabama. His childhood could best be described as checkered and haphazard. He was shuttled back and forth between his mother and stepfather in Miami, Fl. and the home of his grandmother in Ozark. He gleaned what he could educationally from grades attended alternately in Miami and Ozark. Influenced by bad company, he was told by frustrated relatives that he would end up like his drug addicted, ex-con, absentee father. Nevertheless, he swore to himself in the 11th grade that he would not become like his deadbeat parent, hooked on drugs and abandoning his children.
There are no fond fuzzy memories of his school years. He could recall in Ozark whenever his school requested new textbooks that they would receive the old textbooks from the White schools. Many of them were tattered, with scribbles and markings throughout the pages. One time his school required new band uniforms, they were promptly supplied with the old uniforms from the White institution.
In 1970, he finally landed in Miami, Fl and a job with Greyhound Lines. In 1971, he began his descent into the drug world -- a condition and affliction wherein he would be lost for more than 12 years. I vividly remember him telling me how he ingested so much cocaine that when he would attempt to lie down his heart would stop. He had to pace the floor all night until the effects of the drug wore off.
I first met him in 1974. He was a wretched human being. He exhibited nearly all of the negative qualities of a stereotypical African-American.
There was one bright spot during this dark period when he married his high school sweetheart, Meka, in 1976. God bless her.
In 197, at 25 years of age he met his father for the first time. It was not a positive experience because even though he was not incarcerated he had not kicked his destructive habits.
There was a turning point in 1980 when Meka received Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Consequently, she, friends and relatives tried to encourage Terrell to change his lifestyle, to no avail. For three long years, he scoffed and ridiculed their feeble attempts to alter the pattern of his life. He mocked them, calling them weak people who needed a crutch to make it through life.
During this period, whenever I ran into Terrell, I often wondered why would any sensible, self-respecting woman put up with such a vile, incorrigible man. I wrongly concluded she must have been desperate or stupid.
Finally in 1983, Meka, at her wit’s end, thoroughly discouraged , beaten down and at the end of her rope had had enough. She packed her suitcases, prepared to take her two children and start over again. It is truly amazing how God knows exactly when you have walked the last mile and endured all you can bear.
On the night of August 8, 1983, something stirred deep within the soul of Terrell Matthews. He entered the door of the church he had avoided for so long, he passed all the people whom he had scorned and found himself on his knees in front of the altar. He did not rise again until he was sure that his old nature had died and he was filled with the Spirit of God.
What transpired in the life of that man at that altar was nothing short of miraculous. If I had never believed in the “born again” experience, this one life would convince me otherwise. From that date until now, no drug has touched his lips, no alcohol has assaulted his liver and he has caressed no woman other than his wife.
The following is the attitude and belief of this new man whom his wife nor I had never known before.
“We need to stop blaming other people and be accountable for our own actions.”
“We need to respect other people and their emotions.”
“We need to get an education. We no longer live in a society where people are preventing us from going to schools of our choice or we have to attend classes with armed guards. We do not have to use leftover materials.”
“We must break the mental chains that keep us bound. We must forsake the bad habits of alcohol, drugs ,womanizing and gambling which drain the wealth from our communities.”
The day he told me that I immediately envisioned the liquor store on the corner of NW 27th Avenue and Ali Baba Avenue in the black community of Opa Locka. Whenever you cashed your paycheck there, you were encouraged to buy a bottle of alcohol. In the back of that store, not far away, guys would be found gambling. Five blocks away there was a hangout for prostitutes.
Invariably, throughout this country in black communities - there is an abundance of strip joints, liquor stores, pawn shops and payday loan establishments -all places that seek to separate you from your money and keep you mired in poverty. It’s like we are dancing on quicksand.
“We do not have to do or experience bad things to know that they are wrong. All we have to do is look at other people and learn from their mistakes.”
“We never give up trying. When we get knocked down, we get up and start again.”
Because he is not an intellectual giant, he took the rigorous general contractor’s exam six times. He failed six times. He took it again a seventh time. Sometime later, his wife called him one day while out driving. He just received a letter from the examination bureau in Tallahassee,Fl. His heart started to beat faster as he told her to open it. He had finally passed. He pulled his car over to the side of the road and burst out into tears of joy.
Today this reborn individual is an unpaid pastor and volunteer chaplain at the county jail. His wife serves in the same capacity at another facility.
He has investments in 30 different properties. He manages a construction company and his wife runs her own real estate company, Daystar Realty. He owns homes in Jacksonville and Miami.
I was pleasantly surprised that day in 2005 he called me and told me that he had bought his longsuffering mother the brand new car of her choice. The proud grateful lady still drives it today.
I refer to them as my “E F Hutton” couple. Whenever they talk, I listen. Their lives emphatically declare that we have something important to say.
They are genuine examples of what it means to never give up miracles because happen all the time.
One of the most profound things I ever heard him say was, “Before I became saved, I was a dog. When I accepted Jesus, I really and finally became a man.”
V. Knowles is a husband and father with an interest in penning issues that serve to uplift mankind. He melds his love for Classic literature, The Bible and pop culture - as sordid as it may be - into highly relatable columns of truth, faith and justice. Hence the name: Just Thinking. If he's not buried in a book or penning his next column, you may find him pinned to his sectional watching a good old Country and Western flick.
To that, I can fully concur and truly say Amen.