Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Change Done Come

“Eight kids broke into this place back in 2004,” Melvin Whitley said with a look of pride on his face. “They didn’t break in to steal anything. They broke in to play basketball. They were here before us.”

We stood in the middle of a packed auditorium. More than 300 people gathered for the open house and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Holton Career & Resource Center. After years of waiting and $16.7 million spent, the former middle school has been transformed into a center that brings new life into the troubled North East Central Durham community.

Durham Parks and Recreation will offer programs at the center. Duke University Health Systems has partnered with Lincoln Community Health Center to operate a wellness center, and Durham Public Schools is offering vocational courses.

It’s the biggest thing to hit North East Central Durham since the formation of the Partnership Against Crime project back in the early 90’s. The building is 104,000 square feet of change making. After years of talk about North East Central Durham, public officials went to the voters in 2005 with a bond referendum. Whitley’s statement punctuated the impact of the moment. As much as we have to celebrate, the question must be raised-what took us so long?

Transforming the historic 1939 building wasn’t the first effort to create a one stop shop for human service delivery. The first stab came in 1995 when the residents of NECD convinced city and county officials to convert the Holloway Street Elementary School into a one-stop shop. The dilapidated building was offered as a gift to the community. A few nonprofits set up camp. The Durham Police set up a substation. Community meetings were held in the building, but it wasn’t enough to draw residents.

In time, the project buckled due to mismanagement, lack of resources and support. The community was left with no more than the memory of their dream. The building stands as a relic of what could have been. More than 10 years later, The Holton Career & Resource Center completes that vision.

One has to wonder why it took so long. Was it a lack of leadership that obstructed the progress of the Holloway Street plan? Was it simply bad timing? Maybe our public officials needed to witness more pain before they got the guts to take a bond referendum to the voters. Or, maybe Durham needed to observe the resurgence of Downtown Durham first.

West Village, Golden Belt, American Tobacco and Downtown development has proven the worth of making something new from something old. Those old tobacco warehouses have brought new life to an area that was waiting for the reading of its last will and testament. If downtown can do it, why not NECD?

Melvin Whitley and the gang over and NECD determined what is good over there is good for those over here. It was time for the city to make a real investment in a community tagged the most needy in the city. If an old tobacco warehouse can be converted into high cotton condos, why not invest in a center that will be the hub for change over on the other side of the tracks?
“They broke in to play basketball,” Whitley said. “They were here before us.” I’m so glad we finally showed up.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Living With the Years

On July 20th I turned fifty. Observing a half century stirred deep emotions that have taken me two weeks to process. At first I found myself lingering in what felt like I was about to fall off a cliff. I went back and forth between being happy to have lived so long, to wondering about what I’d lost along the way. It became increasingly harder for me not to ask those universal questions: what if, why and how?

Getting older is a gift. I’m acutely aware that my age is camouflaged by the appearance of a more youthful exterior. Looking and feeling younger brings its own set of consequences. The most tragic obstacle is in finding and keeping love. My desire for young women who live on the edge leaves me empty due their lack of maturity. My quest for life with a woman beholden to the gift of prudence leaves me bored at times. I stand in the middle-wanting the pleasures of youth while aching for the knowledge that only growth can bring.

The recent years have left me pondering what life means beyond the expectations I carried prior to witnessing the massive change that came with standing on the outside of what people wanted of me. Gone are the years of security that came with leading a thriving congregation. Gone are the accolades that reflected years of commitment to rising to the top of my profession.

The last seven years have been wrapped in finding meaning after contending with people walking away due to my failure to be the man of God they desired. These years have been bond in a profound mood of isolation. Those labeled friend walked away for a variety of reasons. The adaptation of my theological views caused a deep angst among those in search of a more traditional approach to the work of the kingdom. Little my little, day by day, the work I engaged in was minimized due to a more inclusive outlook. People weren’t ready for the change in me.

It’s easy to critique the change as some form of midlife crisis. How else is one to explain two divorces and the other modifications that led to the swift departure from the work of seven years ago? What is lost in the reflection related to all that happened along the way is the impact fatigue has in fostering change. The change happened because I was tired of playing games with my life. I was tired of not being myself.

There are a number of lessons that help me redirect my work and life. Sadly, it is unlikely that the old Carl will ever resurface. That man and life has taken leave. He wasn’t a real person, but rather was a reflection of the desires and dreams of those who sought his words and works for comfort. He was molded by the institution he was called to serve. His service left him broken, and once the old Carl broke free from the burden of his calling, those who demanded his service did their best to destroy him more.

This examination sounds like a song grounded in the blues. It’s not. Breaking free to find ones true self comes with a price. The end result is a person grounded in spirit. My list of lessons is a work in progress. Part of growing is accepting the power of change. “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new,” Alan Cohen wrote. “But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

The old Carl was enamored with the stuff we see. His obsession with the material goods left him empty and needful of more to feed the absence of something more gratifying. His lacks led to deeper frustration. With the coming of each loss he found himself moving further and further away from what matters the most-the people in his life. His drive to prove worth isolated him from those placed before him as a gift. I’ve learned that it’s the people in your life that matter the most.

True love and friendship is unmoved by changes that come with the loss of money and power. The old Carl pushed many of his friends away after grieving the arrival of the new Carl. As much as the evolving Carl loved the freedom that came with releasing himself from the burden of being what others drove him to become, he missed the benefits of the former life.

One is rewarded for remaining content with being defined. This is a hard place to stand when one’s theology is at the core of that change. One can’t be free when the institution you represent stands in grave contrast to the claims you make about God. You can’t be free when you are called to proclaim a message of liberation while reaping the benefits of a system that oppresses those you are called to set free.

Sadly, many are unable to hear that message. The passion of my words and deeds are for me to proclaim. I needed the space to live within the power of my new identity. I love and support those who find solace in that place. Mine is not a judgment of that perspective, but more of an affirmation of my own work and calling. The pain that comes with standing in this place is the notions held by those who hold truth as a weapon rather than as a plow for growth and change.

I’ve learned that life is too short to fight over differences. The reward that comes with my transformation is the gift of peace. I’ve learned that my change is my change; that my life is mine to live, and that each man and woman must travel that road alone. I have, over these past seven years, found God within me, living and planting seeds for change. The change in me has enabled me to see God in others. There is no fight left in me. I live for the love God has given, and the root of that love is freedom.

Soon, my second novel, Backslide will be released. It is a book dedicated to the change in me. It took me fifty years to get here. Thank God for the change. I'm even more thankful for Compassion Ministries of Durham. They have loved me through the change, and given me the freedom to embrace the evolving me.

I love me some me!