All It Took Was A Vision From God
Wow! That was close. She almost hit me talking on her cell phone and not paying attention. What is he doing trying to cross the street in the middle of traffic? What is wrong with these people? What in the world is on their minds? These and other questions and thoughts ran through my mind as I passed the newly constructed jail off of I-565 and Memorial Parkway. I asked myself if people in Huntsville cared that a jail was now sitting in a prominent place for everyone to see. Did anyone care who was going to jail? Did people know why so many young Black boys were in prison instead of in a college or university? It seemed as though time stood still for just a moment so I could speak to the Lord and ask, "What should the church be doing to save our young Black boys?" The answer came to me in a crystal clear vision, Rites of Passage.
I thought about my son, Michael, who was 12 years old at the time and beginning to deal with demands and pressures facing his young adulthood. At the same time, I was deep in studies, busily preparing my dissertation and learning all I could about the different African Rites of Passage.
THE APPOINTED TIME
Eight years passed and I knew that the appointed time to implement the vision the Lord gave me had arrived. I recognized the vast amount of young people who were being enticed by the gangster hip-hop lifestyle and, in some cases, our children had become totally mesmerized. I started talking to the children at Union Chapel and learned that they believed they could not compete in mainstream society. I realized that perhaps we had lost some of the youth in the City of Huntsville, but we would not continue to stand idle and do nothing to address the problems before us. So I started adding meat to the conceptual framework of what would become "The Passage." I embarked on this endeavor to ensure that our children would no longer validate themselves by what they looked like and what they wore. I prayed to Jesus that God would take the mind of our young, before the devil could take our children.
I also had to deal with the obstacles faced by many church leaders in that certain topics ought not to be addressed in the church. Even though the number of unmarried young girls coming into the church from Sunday to Sunday with babies in their arms was increasing, many said that the church was not the place to talk about those behaviors. I pondered the question; why should the church be silent on subjects spoken everywhere else; should the church allow some non-Christian voice like society or the media to educate our children on morality? No! That is my job! Our job! God wrote the job description for my pastorship over 2000 years ago with step by step instructions laid out in the Word of God and then provided personal guidance, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, so that everything God placed before me would come to pass. I believe the Lord gave Sister Davis and me our last child during our middle age so we would stay connected and in touch with the young people of today. At times, I reflect on Proverbs 20:29 "The glory of young men is their strength; of old men, their experience."
In February 2006, with God's guidance, we introduced over 65 boys and girls, ages 12 and 13, to the first step in transitioning from adolescence to adulthood in a Pre-Passage Ceremony. We used the opportunity to educate the children, who are referred to as candidates, to Black History and a need for them to have a desire to learn as much as they can about their culture. During the ceremony filled with blessings, singing and dancing, a powerful charge was given to both parent and candidate that uplifted and motivated each of them to dedication, focus and diligence in carrying out all of the requirements of the year-long program.
Each candidate was presented with a backpack containing items needed for the program along with a calendar of activities. Their uniform consists of the backpack, a Passage logo polo shirt and khaki pants. The uniform dress is required for every meeting and outing. The program objective is to expose the candidates, in a fun-learning way, to their culture. Armed with a newfound knowledge of and pride in their own culture, the candidate will gain an increased level of self-awareness and understanding of immediate and extended family members, an appreciation for their community and senior friends, a desire to serve in the community, a passion for seeking out educational opportunities, and a comprehension of the importance of discipline and responsibility.
The candidates are taught in a classroom environment, on tours and field trips, and by guest speakers and presenters. Weekly meetings are opened with candidate lead prayer, scripture reading, pledges to the American Flag, the Christian Flag and the Bible, and a recitation of the Passage motto. Candidates are required to conduct themselves with the utmost respect and answer all who speak to them with yes Ma'am or Sir. Their main resource of reading is the Holy Bible. For first year candidates in Phase I, their secondary resource is "Growin' & Flowin' How 2 Grow Up Straight 'N A Crooked World", by Kwame Ronnie Vanderhorst; second year candidates in Phase II secondary resource is "A Survey of African American Church History", by Dr. O. Wendell Davis; third year candidates in Phase III secondary resource is "Sex, Love, and Romance", by Hugh F. Pyle; fourth year candidates in Phase IV secondary resources are quarterly devotionals and prayer guides written by Dr. O. Wendell Davis; and fifth year candidates secondary resource is "Leaving Home For the First Time", by Marquis Thompson. The lesson plans and activities are outlined in modules to cover a year, beginning and ending in February.
Initially the program was designed for boys, but as soon as I cast the vision one Sunday morning from the pulpit to an awaiting congregation, the Lord sent, with a mighty haste, laborers who would work with the girls. Through sacrifice and prayer, we faithfully teach the boys and Sister Davis, meets with the girls and parents. A dedicated group of instructors assist Sister Davis in teaching the girls and a dedicated group of men assist me.
My prayer is that every boy and girl at Union Chapel will look forward to their day when they are in the Passage.