In the final days of any worthwhile effort one is given to reflection. The challenge of working toward a mission, purpose or goal as significant and enduring as child well-being, is that there is always unfinished business. Successes and failures battle for space in the mind. Emotions ebb and flow, especially in times of transition and trial. This moment presents a bit of each.
A moment of pride and inspiration for me as a child was watching my uncle, Darrell, preach. He was a singing preacher and his voice rings deeply in my memory. The first solo he ever ministered into my spirit was a song by Paul Jones, that began,
I had some good days
And I had some hills to climb
I’ve had some weary days
And some sleepless nights
But when I look around
And I think things over
All of my good days
Out-weigh my bad days
I won’t complain
This is an honest testimony of the last nine years working for St. Louis’ children at Deaconess. The earliest years – 2011 through 2014 – were marked by our heightened commitment to Advocacy and honoring the mission’s 125th anniversary. During this time of celebration, the Ferguson uprising turned our attention to learning and leading in Equity. While taking public and sector-facing roles in response, we also turned inward to do our own work to build an anti-racist institution. Since 2018, we have been doggedly focused on Power, a focus on the infrastructure necessary to sustain the movement for child well-being.
Each of these three moves of mission required different gifts, graces and skills. God sent them all through each of you. Different staff, various board members, diverse volunteers and partner organizations were all necessary and valued elements to do the work this community’s children needed at the time. Thank you.
For those of us with enough ego (or belief in human agency) to think we can change the world, the stakes of this contest of memory is the issue of legacy. We are tempted in these times to document a list of accomplishments. (I will resist the temptation.) Frankly, it is usually the case that our sense of personal impact is too large and the things that matter the most, others are holding in their hearts. So, we miss them.
What I would rather do is invite you into reflection with me. I recently joined my friend and brother, Dr. Gregory Ellison II, in an experiment with Fearless Dialogues, entitled “the Five Hardest Questions You Will Face in Life.” The fifth (and hardest) question comes from Howard Washington Thurman. “What must I do to die a good death?”
Greg reminds us that this is an imperative, personal question. “Must” suggests that I can’t stop until it happens. “I” intimates that if there is always more work to do, each of us much discern which part is ours. While I’m not sure how my legacy will be recorded by whomever holds such authority in the history of this institution, I do believe I have done what I must. This releases me for other work.
(I can’t answer for you. But, spending some time with C’Babi Bayoc’s mural at Deaconess Center for Child Well-Being was valuable for my discernment. The title is “All the Potential for All the Children.”)
Over the last two months, since I announced my transition to the Children’s Defense Fund, you have been more than kind to me. In this season of Thanksgiving, I’m reading your cards, emails, letters and notes. Several of you have thanked me. I am equally grateful for you, this community of caregivers and child advocates. Each message or gift takes me to a time and place of our work together. The memories are gifts as well.
Memory is a prerequisite of gratitude. One of my favorite moments in Black Church worship is the climactic tune of the preacher proclaiming, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all He’s done for me, my soul cries ‘Hallelujah!’ Thank God for saving me.” As a dynamic, young pastor in Dallas during my teens, the Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III of Friendship-West Baptist Church, was an icon in my faith journey. Now I’m honored to call him a colleague and friend. He interprets this old church colloquialism more succinctly as, “The more I think, the more I thank.”
It’s been hard to wrap my head around this transition. But, this time of reflection has been healing. So, I can speak in truth, “The more I think, the more I thank!”
The Lord Has been so good to me
He’s been good to me
More than this old world or you could ever be
He’s been so good, To me
He dried all of my tears away
Turned my midnights into day
So I’ll just say thank you Lord
I won’t complain
A luta continua,
Starsky Darrell Wilson