Purdue Peace Project – Part Three

Dr. Marrissa Dick | September 13th, 2018
Rev. Tina Ogundiran (Photos by JLG Photography)

Rev. Tina Ogundiran (Photos by JLG Photography)

In this August/September issue of the Huami Magazine we will discuss the qualitative stories of the people who live inside of our community. We will utilize the theory of phenomenology to narrate their personal subjectivity as Black men and Black women who have survived traumatic experiences within their own communities at the hands of their own people. This type of research is known as qualitative research. This method of research provides a unique perspective for these volunteers’ experiences on multiple levels of narrative research. Patton (1985) explains that, “Qualitative research is an effort to understand situations in their uniqueness as part of a particular context and the interactions there. … What it means for the participants to be in that setting, what their lives are like, what’s going on for them, what their meanings are, what the world looks like in that particular setting” (as cited in Merriam, 2002, pg. 5). In knowing that narrative research is a “special case of life writing” (Smith, 1994, p. 288) these individuals can convey their life stories from their personal perspective. In sharing their voice who else can make sense of their world by critically reflecting and understanding their lived experiences. Merriam (2002) shares this same posture of qualitative research. She says that when people share their stories as they perceive it shows, “how individuals construct and make sense of their world through their lived experiences” (p. 9). The goal of qualitative research is to fully describe a lived experience. It stresses that only those that have experienced phenomena can communicate them to the outside world” (Todres and Holloway, 2004). This is what the Purdue Peace Project (PPP) is looking for. They are soliciting your lived experiences within your own communities, so they can have a better understanding of exactly what you, the community, needs in order to live productive and safe lives inside of our own communities.

One community worker bringing her voice and concerns to the table is Rev. Tina Ogundiran, Founder of Bridging The Gap Services of Greensboro. Tina shares, “You know I Co-Pastor Ever Changing Lives Ministry with my husband Pastor Moses Ogundiran and we saw a need for creating Bridging The Gap Services. It all started because people would literally walk off the street and come inside of our church asking for assistance. It could be a homeless person, a woman suffering from domestic violence or even a family that had been affected by a disaster. They were all in need of different things. Some needed shelter, some needed a hot meal, some needed clothing, others needed help with finding a job and others were escaping domestic violence situations. Unfortunately, we can only serve a hot meal once a week. Every 3rd Saturday we provide clothing through our Kids Connect Clothes Closet. We also help with job referrals, provide housing assistance, and assist people with preparing to take the GED exam. What’s exciting is that we have also started a program called Single Parents Network. This program meets once a month with other community sponsors to provide family assistants and encouragement for single parents. We try our best to make sure that everyone who comes to us can take advantage of our services. We also make sure to inform the community of what we do here and also what other programs are out there that can help. Many times, people don’t know that there is help available, so we really try to get the word out.”

Rev. Ogundiran is no stranger to the situations that knock on her door, she shares, “I am a survivor of domestic violence. I had heard about it. It was something that I read about. I never thought that woman would ever be me, but it was. Even when I was going through it I didn’t really understand what it was. Once I realized my reality I knew that I couldn’t live the rest of my life in that type of environment, but I just didn’t know how to leave or where to turn for help. Then finally I shared what I was going through, and I was able to receive help from my church and that lead me to learning about all of the other agencies out here that provide assistance. Once I began learning about the different programs available to me I began taking advantage of them, so I could pick myself up. It took some work, but with prayer and knowing that all things are possible through God I was able to recover and get my life back on track. This is what has motivated me to become an advocate for others who need help transitioning from their current oppressive way of life to a healthier one. This is what Bridging The Gap Services of Greensboro does. We get the word out to the community that there is help for them. If people don’t know that assistance is available, then they think they’re stuck in that sunken place and that’s not true. Unfortunately, what is true is that the violence in our communities is on the rise. It used to be that crime, domestic violence, and killings was something you just heard about, but it’s shifted so badly. Violence has increased from a fist fight to a stabbing or from a stabbing to a shooting. Things are escalating out here fast. One of my prayers is that the Perdue Peace Project can help us have these conversations, so the violence can stop. I know they have experience in this. Then we need facilities to house these people, so we can help them get back on their feet. The need is greater than the resources available to us. We need to be able to feed the people more than just once a week. We need to be able to clothe them, too. We need resource buildings where people can go for help during the “in between time.” We need shelters for women and children and the homeless where they’ll be safe. We need the psychologists and counselors to work with these people while they are transitioning to a healthier station in life. You know you can’t remain in a shelter long before you have to leave. We need housing, psychologists, counselors, and mentors. We need to turn these food desserts into viable stores, so we can hire the people in our community. If you know your brother or your sister, you’ll be less likely to hurt one another. It doesn’t make any sense that almost every day a mother is burying her son, or he’s being sent to prison. That’s like a death, too. That responsibility falls on us. I believe we just need to get the information out there so people can know where to go and who they can turn to for help when the normal avenues turn them away because they don’t meet a certain criteria. I pray continuously that our resources increase so we don’t ever have to turn anyone away and people can really get the help that they need to live their best lives. I’m living proof that it can happen, and I want others to know it can happen for them, too.”

What happens when living proof is more real than you can fathom? What happens when the child that you thought you would be undergirding in ministry is taken away from you through a senseless act of violence? What happens when you know the voice of God and He’s whispering 2 Corinthians 5:8 ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord’ in your ear and you can feel it in your spirit? What do you do with that? Apostle Deborah White knows all too well how to handle it all. She shares, “I lost my 24-year old son, Reginald DeMarcus Wrenn to a senseless act of violence. He was murdered on November 4, 2012 right here in Greensboro, NC. From what I was told by an eye witness my son accidently backed into a car. The witness said DeMarcus got out of the car, apologized and told the man that he had insurance and he would take care of it, but the man told him that he didn’t want his insurance; instead, he wanted everything DeMarcus had. When my son turned to get his telephone to call the police the man shot him four times. The police found the man the next day. He was a repeat offender so that’s why he shot my son. He had warrants against him. You know a couple of weeks before my son was murdered I kept hearing God say, ‘to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ I just kept hearing it in my ear and I could feel it in my spirit. I thought God was coming for me not my child. So, I told God I’m ready Lord but please give me time to get things straight for my daughters because they’re still young. I knew DeMarcus would be okay because he was already grown and so wise. I just wanted to make sure my children were going to be okay, but it wasn’t me He was talking about. He was talking about my son, my best friend. DeMarcus was my only son and he was so wise to be just 24-years old.” While grappling with her son’s senseless death she heard the Lord speaking to her again. He told her to start a ministry and name it The Reginald Center of Turn Around Restoration for Life and the Apostle was obedient. This Ministry caters to the community in a multiplicity of ways. Most recently Apostle White focused her efforts on the children. According to her, “There’s a lot of hurting families out here and I believe that a lot of the children on the streets come from broken homes because they don’t have anyone to look up to or even have anybody in the home, so they turn to the streets. I just finished doing my first drug prevention summer camp. We held it from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. for the parents who couldn’t afford a summer program for their children, but they still had to go to work. So, we took 100 of those children from the community and we provided them with breakfast, lunch, and snacks. We took them on field trips like swimming, skating, to the movies, and to the library. We also had educational and real-life sessions on drugs, alcohol and life period. We didn’t just have fun, but we wanted to educate them. Their parents really appreciated us because they knew their children were safe. I believe that going into these communities and being consistent with helping them is important. I believe if we are consistent in our presence then a difference can be made. I don’t assume what the community needs. I go to the homes and speak with the parents and the children and find out what they need so I can help make a positive difference in their lives. If it’s transportation so they can get to work, then we work on that. If it’s job readiness or GED preparation, then we assist them with that. If it’s daycare and afterschool programs so the parents can work and know that their children are safe, then we do that too. The key here is consistency. What we need are the resources, so we can remain consistent in or efforts. We need the educational centers for afterschool programs. We need facilities in our community with qualified counselors and mental health workers so when the gang members are ready they have a way of transitioning mentally and emotionally. The community needs help. They need to trust that The Reginald Center of Turn Around Restoration for Life isn’t going anywhere. I’m not going to be like the others who promise to help and leave in a couple of months. I intentionally moved my office from Meadowview over to Phillips Avenue, so I could be near the community where my son lost his life for no reason. I plan to let my son’s passion and ambition for life live by helping those gang members know there’s another way to live life. It’s never too late to turn your life around no matter what you’ve done or the mistakes you’ve made. We’ve all made mistakes, and everyone can be forgiven. You know the young man who murdered my son was only sentenced to 15 years. We didn’t have a trial because the courts dropped his charges down to second degree murder. I believe they did that to save the taxpayers money. So, he agreed to it and all he will serve is 15 years for taking my son’s life. But I was able to speak with that young man and I could tell that somebody had dropped the ball with him. I told him that my prayer for him is that he really receives Christ in his life. I’m not talking about that prison Christ or that jail house Christ. I’m talking about really receiving Jesus Christ in his life, so he can change his life. I asked him to educate himself while he was in jail and I asked him to use his time wisely so that when he does get out he can be a mentor and break the cycle of recidivism for some young boy. I really believe the ball was dropped even where he was concerned because if he had been educated or had somebody stable in his life I believe he would have turned out better. Then he wouldn’t have murdered my son.”

Apostle White believes that the Purdue Peace Project could be the assistance the community needs to help provide the educational programs and facilities needed so the children can have a safe place to go instead of the streets. She believes that the PPP can be that conduit for conversation so dialogue between the men and the young boys can be held so they understand that gangs have no place in the community or in their lives. She shares, “I really do believe that the older men in the community should come together and embrace these young men and turn them around before the streets get to them. The men in the community should be the role models. Once that trust has been gained then we need transitional housing for the men and women when they can get out of the gangs. Where are they going to go? They can’t go home because most likely their parent lives in a government assisted home and it’s a violation for a felon to be on the premises. Where are they going to go if their lucky enough to get out of the gang alive? What are they going to do with their lives? We must be proactive and have these programs in place to assist them before they get out. I believe the Purdue Peace Project can help us bring this to pass. I don’t want my son’s life to have been in vein. Everyday his voice speaks through the Center named in his honor. So, yes, he is preaching it’s just not the way I imagined he would be doing it. It’s his spirit touching the lives of the community we serve. Lives are being changed. The Word of God is going forth, one child, one woman, one man, one community at a time.” So, Apostle Deborah White may it be unto you and your family according to Psalm 72:17, “May his name (Reginald DeMarcus Wrenn) endure forever; May his name increase as long as the sun shines; And let men bless themselves by him; Let all nations call him blessed.” Selah.

In the spirit of consistency, which seems to be the resonating theme in this issue, Ron Luciano, Principal of David D. Jones Elementary School which also houses one of North Carolina’s premier Spanish Immersion Magnet Programs believes that, “Every child has the right to feel safe and grow in their academic environment and they also have the right to expect consistency. Consistency is the key to our student’s success. For the first time in nine years our students have met the North Carolina expected growth. For Jones Elementary to achieve that expected growth that means North Carolina looked at each individual grade level, where a child starts, and they figure a percentage of what it takes to show one year’s growth. Regardless of where you are academically you still have to grow from where you are. Our students met that growth and that’s something we can all be proud of. The teachers are proud and so are our students. I’m proud of the achievement because it says to me that the weekly planning our teachers do together is working. Where one teacher may be strong in one area then we have another teacher that’s proficient in another area and we come together and share those strengths. When our students see our staff consistently helping and feeling good about one another then that behavior is modeled by our children. The first year, yes it was tough because it was a new administration and the children had become so accustomed to seeing new teachers and administrative leaders come and go all the time. So, the children became detached and behavior problems were prevalent. That’s not our issue anymore. Because of consistency in our personnel we have seen a 90% reduction in behavior consequences. It’s amazing because the students were literally asking the teachers ‘what are you doing back? My teacher last year didn’t come back.’ Children shouldn’t say that about their leadership. They couldn’t form attachments then because they didn’t trust that their environment was going to be the same, but they don’t have to be concerned about that anymore and they can form those necessary bonds and have that trust because we’re consistent.”

Mr. Luciano believes in setting the moral tone. He shares, “As the leader of this school I have to set that vision and I have to set the moral tone. We are here for the children there’s nothing more important in this world than the children, period. So, if you’re teaching children, especially here, then that means you understand that too. I believe in celebrating our teachers just as much as we celebrate our children. I believe in celebrating you as an individual as well as a group. Because of that I believe it has helped people want to stay around because everybody wants to genuinely feel appreciated. And, my staff knows that it’s okay if they don’t know everything. It’s a school we’re all learning. We have a good success rate with our teachers because we learn together, and I believe in creating a safe environment for not only our children to learn but for our staff to be unsuccessful at something, too. If you make a mistake it’s okay it’s not the end of the world. At that point it’s my responsibility to provide the resources and training so that mistake doesn’t continue and that makes a huge difference. You know every two years a survey comes out for the working conditions in our school and in 2016, 96.5% of our staff believed that their school is a safe place to work and to learn. That say’s a lot because we’re a big staff. It also tells me that we’re really a family and like family sometimes we don’t always get along but at the end of the day I believe we encompass respect, empathy and compassion for one another and our students.”

Mr. Luciano believes that the Purdue Peace Project can benefit the children by aiding the community in meeting, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What that means is that human beings cannot progress to their full potential or realize self-actualization until their “basic” needs are met. He believes that PPP can provide the vans for transportation of food throughout the community and the facilities for afterschool programming. According to Mr. Luciano, “You know Mondays are tough sometimes for our children because it’s been an unsettling weekend and that’s not all the time, but you have to be ready for that. Even our teachers must be aware when a child comes back to us from the weekend or holiday and notices that somethings not right. It’s in building that relationship and that trust when a child allows you access to their emotions. Maybe it’s just an acknowledgement or a hug they need and then sometimes it’s much more. We are prepared for the more. We now have two professional counselors for our students. You know it’s my belief that I have a huge obligation in turning kids around before they become involved in things they can’t get out of before those major mistakes are made. I spent 10 years as an administrator in a middle school and it’s difficult to look at an eighth grader who is still a boy but must be a man at 14. It’s difficult to look him in the eye and know that he can’t read and that’s why he has behavior issues. I remember having one student who couldn’t write how he was feeling. How could that happen? All I could do was apologize for someone not catching him sooner. In coming to Jones, I recognized that this is “my sooner.” Now, I have the responsibility of 4-year old’s to 12-year old’s and there’s nothing we can’t accomplish here. Our students aren’t going to end up like that. They’re not going to slip through the cracks. They are going to have the ability to grow far beyond what they’d ever dreamed. We just have to create those moments of growth for them. One piece of growth to another piece of growth at a time.”

This issue has brought you real life stories of your brothers, your sisters, and your neighbors. It has shared with you stories about overcoming struggles, lives lost, and young aspirations. These stories are real experiences from the people who live it, breathe it, and work with it every day. What’s your story? Again, the Purdue Peace Project continues to solicit your narratives, so they can have a clear understanding of the communities need. They continue to ask how they can aid our community in sheading the violence and embracing a holistic way of living. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently stated, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Aren’t you tired of the struggle? Aren’t you tired of burying and losing your sons and daughters to senseless violence? Aren’t you tired of just surviving? Don’t you want to live the life that God promised you could obtain? Stayed tuned for the next part of the Perdue Peace Project series.

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