Saturday, December 5, 2009

Melvin Whitley: Flash Forward

Note: This post was first published in the Durham News section of the News & Observer

Melvin Whitley was a minister at the church I pastor. I remember the first time I heard him preach. He stood broken. He shared being out of control. The flashbacks kept coming. The memories of Vietnam stayed locked in his head.

From the pile of ashes that once stood as a souvenir of days gone bad, Whitley is positioned to lead the influential Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Thursday's election at White Rock Baptist Church could bring an end to the 12-year tenure of Lavonia Allison.

This election is the classic battle between old money, pedigree and education, and dirt poor, homeless and addicted. Whitley has been called quick-tempered. Some question his motives. Others point to his criminal record. "I can't work with him because he refuses to listen," a member of the political arm of the Durham Committee told me. That person recounted a frenzied altercation between Whitley and Allison at a Durham Committee meeting.

Conversations surrounding Whitley have more to do with his past than his achievements as a grassroots organizer. People want to know more about that indecent exposure charge back in 2005 and the 18 assault charges filed against him.

"I was the first man in America to get arrested for using the bathroom," he told me. It happened during an NAACP executive board meeting at the North Carolina Mutual Building. A female custodian was mopping the floor. According to Whitley, she asked him not to use the bathroom. She went to the supervisor, who fired her for making the complaint against Whitley.
"After she was fired, she called and asked me for money. I wouldn't do it," Whitley said. The woman filed charges against Whitley. The case was thrown out of court before he faced a judge.

It reminded Whitley of days before the change. "Sixteen years ago I went from having dinner with the governor to being on the soup line," Whitley said. One day he sold his shoes for a hit. It started to snow.

"I lived in boarded-up houses. One day I saw this house people had moved out of that day thinking I could find something to sell not to get shoes but to get another hit. In there was a hymn book. I got out the hymn book and started singing 'Jesus keep me near the cross'."

The next day, Whitley began his journey to recovery. "I went in the prayer room at the rescue mission in Raleigh to cuss God out about my wife dying, Vietnam, being homeless and attempting suicide," Whitley said. "Right then I said to God if you don't let me die, then you would have to fix it."

Whitley says he was arrested 18 times on assault charges dating back 30 years. He called himself a moral thug. He would attack drug dealers who failed to show up in court. He says his rage was connected to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. "I hated white people to the point I wouldn't wear a white T-shirt or underwear," he said.

I asked him the biggest difference between him and Allison. "I'm capable of saying I made a mistake, and I'm willing to forgive people," he said. He talked about his shortcomings and how he listens to his critics. If it fits, he puts it on; if it doesn't, he takes it off.

His goals for the Durham Committee are simple: bring back trust into the Durham Committee, bring people back to the table, to create goals that are measurable, to evaluate leadership every six months, identify future leaders and to establish a membership fee.

From that day at Compassion Ministries Whitley stands on the brink of leading the Durham Committee. It's funny how a story of change can be celebrated in some places and used to hinder in others. Those of us who have been addicted understand what it means to endure change. It's hard to talk about the passion that inspires one to make a difference. "I left people on the streets who are still there," Whitley said. "We need to go back and help them."

Count me in, Melvin. Let's go get them.

9 comments:

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  2. Posted by Steven Matherly

    Carl:

    First, can you please delete this thing above my post here - the one about the getrichquick company based in Panama? Thanks.

    A few years ago I was president of the the People's Alliance. I have since parted ways with the PA and I find much of what they do to be irrelevent at best. During my short tenure Mr. Whitley joined the PA and began actively participating as a member of the board. It is my understanding that he now holds the position of treasurer for the People's Alliance.

    Here's my question: Is there any inherent conflict of interest if Mr. Whitley serves in both organizations. I think it would be difficult if someone were to be on the board of the Friends of Durham and then wanted to run for president of the PA, wouldn't it? Is there a conflict in this case? Just thought I'd ask the question given that the Committee is a black organization. I actually don't have a problem with The Committee not allowing white folks or anybody but black folks in the organization. However, the PA doesn't have the same rules - anyone can join as Mr. Whitley has done.

    Looking at it another way I just wonder what is Mr. Whitley's agenda. I would think there might be two things he is trying to do. The more charitable thought is that he is trying to build bridges by being the link between the two organizations; he might be trying to forge alliances and build a colorblind future for us all. On the other hand it could be that he is representing the interests of the folks that Lois Murphy mentions in her letter and that his intent is to thwart the Committees ability to influence local politics by placing himself and perhaps others in positions of power in the Committee that no white person would be able to accomplish.

    Also, I take issue, as I usually do in such matters, with giving people the benefit of the doubt. Mr. Whitely has a long criminal record and a history of antisocial behavior. He has also made some political enemies around here. I don't think it is too much to ask that he explain himself. Nor is it too much that he be required to defend himself. Everyone in political life is expected to do the same. Just because Mr. Whitley has found salvation in Jesus does not exempt him from scrutiny of his life, actions, and intentions.

    STEVEN MATHERLY

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry, Steve, but the inclusion of my name in Lois Murphy's email tells me it has absolutely no credibility at all. Accusations about my supposed letter surfaced over five years ago, not several years ago; were untrue to begin with; and I haven't had a thing to do with Durham politics in over two years. I am clearly neither a threat to The Committee nor working with Melvin Whitley nor anyone else in this town. On top of that, I was never a member of the People's Alliance, never even worked with the PA and, in fact, worked with Lavonia Allison and Lois Murphy on far more projects than I ever worked with Melvin Whitley on way back when I was active in local politics.

    To summarize: Lois Murphy's email is garbage and you should know better than to accept something as face value simply because it comes into your in-box.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Steve Matherly is now posting about the Durham Committee and against Whitley.

    I'm sure that really helps Lavonia.

    Mr. Matherly you talk about Whitley making political enemies? You're not very liked yourself, amongst the political crust and I think I would know. The difference is the average politico takes Whitley serious, whereas you are a joke.

    We don't want your thoughts, get the hell out of here. By the way, Whitley long resigned as an officer in the People's Alliance.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I prefer someone who is interested in building bridges rather than blowing up at any attempts of working together. Lavonia Allison repeatedly says the she does not trust white people and that there is no such thing as a "white progressive." She is more racist than any person I know and spits in the face of people who would like to work to build those bridges.

    It's also interesting that she used to rant about the fact that she always voted Democratic and would rail against whites who didn't always tow the party line. Then surprisingly she leads her PAC against endorsing registered Democrats who are running for office and instead endorses Independents or others. This coming from a woman who sits on the N.C. Democratic Party's State Executive Committee. As such, her responsibility should be to elect registered Democrats. So you can add hypocrite to her list as well.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Exactly!

    Darius Little was quoted as saying that Lavonia has been allowed to engage in the art of utilizing the same tactics of oppression that she publicly accuses/attacks whites of (backdoor methods of intimidation, IE contacting the Law School Dean at NCCU to try to get two young men who filed a housing complaint to have their caving-in roof fixed, kicked out of school for 'harrassing' the Chair of the Durham Committee...the Dean rejected her and reported her to the Chancellor.....or the 86 year old black man she evicted without a court order, who was not late for rent, but had only complained the the Durham Housing Authority about Lavonia trying to make him pay rent early...or the girl she hit with her truck, who got her mouth smashed and coincidently received free dental work from Vincent Allison and was told she better not try to sue Lavonia, or her family would be blackballed in Durham).

    Lavonia is an oppressor. I am so glad to see these people exposing her. LMAO!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. For anyone who wants to see the failure of the Durham Committee, the best case scenario if actually for Lavonia to get re-elected.

    Look at the Durham Committee under her leadership. With her at the top it doesn't matter who is a chair of any other committee, she has shown she will try to control everything and hold them back.

    Melvin Whitley would actually, probably try to organize the group and give others the freedom to do what they want in their respective committees.

    Lavonia's re-election is the best thing happening for a persopn who wants to see the Durham Committee die. Her leadership is bringing just that, a slow death. People can't and don't work with the woman.

    ReplyDelete
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