It was 1967 or was it 68?
I don’t remember the actual year. In fact, much of the detail surrounding this incident is jumbled patchwork of random snapshots in my brain. The actual attack I don’t remember at all What I do remember haunts me to this day.
It was football season. The basketball team had begun its practice sessions for the upcoming season and I just got my award jacket. I couldn’t wait to wear my new red and gold jacket to the away game that night. It was a crisp Fall night and I imagined strutting around the stadium just to show everyone that I made the team.
I asked my dad if I could go to the game. He said “No there’s going to be trouble…No”
I was crushed.
What he meant by trouble was ‘racial trouble.’ I didn’t care about all that. I made the varsity! Ours was a predominately white school and we were playing a predominately black school at their stadium right in the middle of Youngstown Ohio’s version of ‘The Hood.’ (think Remember the Titans)
I waited until I could sneak out and join my friends and went to the game anyway. There was tension in the air… I could feel it. Queued up to get my ticket, I heard a girl scream. Up ahead I saw a classmate—a neighbor who lived across the street from me. She was being accosted by a group of young black guys who were physically threatening her. I just started running up to where she was. That’s all I remember.
In the next fragment of memory, I was back at our school in the bathroom…trying to focus my eyes My friends told me that they found me on the ground…dazed, with blood coming out my ear. One of them said he thought I had been hit behind my ear with a pipe and the assailants were kicking me on the ground.
Still muddled in my mind, the next snapshot is the emergency room cubicle…waiting for the results of an x-ray to see if my skull was fractured. In the days that followed, I hurt all over and had short term memory loss. I looked at my brother Joe and couldn’t remember his name.
What I do remember though, is the reaction when I got back to school. Some guys came up to me and vowed to avenge me;
”We’ll get those blankety blank…s.!!!”
Three years later, after Martin Luther King had been assassinated…and Bobby Kennedy… and Watts and Detroit…and Chicago… and the beat goes on…it felt like everything I knew was coming unraveled like a cheap suit…at a period some call the Jesus Movement…
My life changed forever.
I was born again. Someone preached to gospel to me in a way I had never heard before. I knew almost immediately that I was going to be a minister. One year later after graduating from college I went west to a seminary in Southern California.
There I met a young African American musician- singer songwriter named Donn Thomas. He was and remains one of the most effective inspiring ministers I have had to pleasure to know. He rounded up a number of us and said, “We’re going to Watts and witness on the streets!”
As we drove deeper and deeper into South Central L.A. some familiar feelings of anxiety began to creep into my mind. Donn got set up in Will Rogers Park…the epicenter of some of the worst rioting in U.S. history, and began playing. The rest of us fanned out and began to share with people gathering to hear the music. I knelt with a 13 year old black boy and led him to Jesus. An angry looking gang banger knelt with a 50 year old white lady and began sobbing as he gave his heart to the Lord.
Donn went on to minister to thousands. I last saw him at a Promise Keepers meeting at Autzen Stadium home of the Oregon Ducks. He was leading 40,000 men singing” How great Thou art”
I will never forget how I saw Jesus go into the hottest hot spot of racial tension and lead individuals to Himself. I have seen Jesus go into impossible family strife and put families together again. I’ve seen him as I held the hand of someone about to die—and watched Him bring the peace that passes all understanding.
I searched the Scriptures and racked my brain for something to say about the current chaos in our nation. I suddenly remembered a prophetess…she was 3 years old. My wife and I were fighting (Yes Pastors and Pastors’ wives fight…) We were yelling at each other.
Little Hannah stepped between us, and pushed us apart and yelled
Her one sentence was one of the most powerful sermons I ever heard. Her one-word sermon had 3 points
- Stop the yelling
- Own your own stuff and allow God to search YOUR heart
- Do what Jesus said
In 2020… on the cusp of civil war… with tensions at fever pitch
As cities burn, and demons are infiltrating crowds of demonstrators and police are being attacked…
Perhaps we need to heed the advice of a three year old.