Two Showed How to Create Lives Worth Living: Tracy Moore and Sammy Stevenson Had Commitment to Service.

[Thomas Moore, “Two showed how to create lives worth living” Charlotte Observer (4/4/06): 15A]

I knew my fellow black men were in trouble, but the studies reported in the Observer last week were astonishing. In 2004, 72 percent of black males who dropped out of high school were unemployed in their 20s. By the time they reached their mid-30s, 6 in 10 black men who didn’t complete school had been convicted of at least one crime and gone to jail. I wish I had easy answers to turn the tide for this generation of black males. But I do believe black men are not doomed to wasted lives. I know because I witnessed two black men who made it — one educated, one not, both of whom drew blacks and whites together. Their recent deaths only make their legacy clearer.

Long prayers, joyful singing One was my father, Tracy H. Moore. On a resume, Dad’s life looks unremarkable, like many men of the time. He lived most of his 83 years in Gastonia, where I was born. He didn’t graduate from high school — more common and less costly to one’s prospects in those days. His primary job was as a laborer at a textile mill. He provided for a wife, five sons and one daughter.But people are more than what appears on their bios. All six of Dad’s children attended college, with one receiving a Ph.D. and another a Doctor of Ministry. Dad received the key to the city of Gastonia in honor of his commitment to the community. He was a Mason and an Elk and a church leader at Ebenezer A.M.E. Zion in Smyrna, S.C. I especially remember his prayers. They were very long. Dad’s prayers always included a concern for all people. He was not overly impressed with wealth. He recognized that no matter how much money you have, you are just as needy spiritually as the person on welfare. One early incident shaped my view of my father. A stranger called, “Hey, you boy,” and asked him directions. At 10, I hurt to hear Dad addressed with such disrespect. But my father calmly answered the question. He later said we must pray for people like that stranger. His example is the reason I could later balance my anger at racism with the knowledge that some people are unaware of how much we need each other. I could lash out, or I could use my skills to educate and create peace. Above all, Dad was a singer. He used to say he liked birds because they’d get out on a limb and start singing. Dad sang with two brothers and a close friend of the family whose last name was Love. Our friend said the quartet’s name was Moore Love or Love Moore. “Either way,” Mr. Love said, “the message was good.” At Dad’s homecoming service, blacks and whites packed the church to pay their respects. He would have enjoyed the celebration. I imagine him right there with us, singing to the top of his lungs. After the singing, I can see him lifting his head to the heavens.

Building community Samuel Clark Stevenson was a singer too, and another black man who made a life worth living. My friend Sammy performed all over the world before returning to his hometown of Charlotte to sing and teach here. He died of pneumonia earlier this year at only 50. At his funeral, the Myers Park United Methodist’s Church in the Round Singers, an interracial choir, led the service and remembered how Sammy used to encourage us to praise God as we sang. He would sometimes raise his hands, looking upward toward the heavens. During the funeral when we sang, “Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away,” many in the choir and the congregation lifted their hands in thanks to God for sending him our way. Sammy’s mother, Sarah, raised her hands as well. We recalled all the times Sammy had sung for free, volunteering for people who needed him, whether rich or poor. Shortly after his funeral, several new singers, white and black, approached me about joining our Church in the Round choir. There are not many places where people of varying backgrounds create something together, but Sammy helped develop one. He understood that singing together builds community, and singing with others is a way to free what binds you.

Servants of the people My Dad, Tracy Moore and my friend, Sammy Stevenson, never met. They were united, though, in their commitment to service. Both were servants of the people. They built real relationships — meaningful connections over time. They demonstrated that patience can help us learn how to respect each other’s differences. I thank God for their courage. Being a servant leader is a sentiment that’s gone out of fashion today. Maybe we need to be teaching the concept again to black males, and to us all.

Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.