By Chinta Strausberg
Melech E.M. Thomas, 24, was an intern at the Saint Sabina Church from March of 2009 until April 22, 2012, when he said his good-byes to the congregation he has grown to love and respect telling them how he was kicked out of two schools, erroneously labeled a social misfit but with the grace of God is now headed for Princeton University.
Â â€œI am so appreciative of these past three-years. It taught me a lot about ministry that you would never see watching preachers on TV,â€ Thomas said Thursday.
â€œIt taught me not just the logistics of ministry but the heart of ministry. There is a sense of service in what you do when the cameras are not there and there are no parishioners present to applaud to you.
â€œI am so appreciative of Father Mike to be exposed to things I would never be exposed to. I will always be a Saint Sabinian.â€
Thomas will be going to Princeton this fall to work on his Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in psychology, religion and the black experience. It is a three-year course. â€œItâ€™s worth the time,â€ said Thomas who is a Howard University graduate.Â
At 24, Thomas has been through the crucibles of life having been told as a child by a number of teachers that he was dumb, that he was a waste of classroom space, should drop out of school, kicked out of two schools and told he would certainly fail in life.
And if those very personal attacks against Thomas was not enough to brainwash him into thinking he was a born loser, doctors had told his mother because she had ovarian cancer that she would never have a child and if she did her womb would be too weak to hold the baby.
Yet, in spite of those professional warnings, his mother gave birth to Melech even though her umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Ultimately, his mother had four healthy children. Melech is the youngest of four. His mother is not only alive but is preaching the word every day.
But, his critics didnâ€™t know the power of The Word. They didnâ€™t know the forces and power of prayer, and they certainly didnâ€™t understand the covering of The Blood this man was under by his praying parents both of whom are ordained ministers, but God knew and He had Melechâ€™s back all the time. Jesus said, â€œWhat is impossible with men is possible with God.â€ Luke 18:27 (NIV)
Melech is the proud son of Rev. Drs. Michael O. and Debyii Thomas. Both parents have Ph.D.â€™s in ministry and they come out of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church.
Asked about the violence that is taking place in the black community, Thomas said it wonâ€™t end until there is a changing of the hearts of the perpetrators.
â€œAs somebody who has been kicked out of two schools, who graduated from high school with a 1.75 GPA and have been given all the labels a black man can be given by society, one of the ways I found myself on a different path was not just because I was given something to do or given a job, but people worked with me to change the type of person I was, about how I thought about myself and my community and my spirituality.
â€œThey changed my heart about being a child of God. Those are the things that brought me around, Thomas said also crediting the after school programs,â€ he said. â€œAll those things helped, but it wasnâ€™t until I was able to change myself did my situation change. I believe that our communities need to be more welcoming of these black men.â€
Thomas said those black youth who are violating the community should not be tolerated but that â€œwe should open our arms a little bit wider to accept the young black men that even we are skeptical about being a part of our family.â€
He believes this because he was brought through the fire of rejection and the glory of redemption thanks only to his praying parents and friends and mentors like Father Michael L. Pfleger.
Kicked out in seventh grade, Thomas said he was one of the smartest students in his school having been tested in the 98 percentile in America on a gifted intelligence test. â€œBecause I felt disrespected by teachers, in my foolish sophomoric wisdom, I decided that if you donâ€™t respect me, I wonâ€™t respect you.â€ He vowed not to do his homework in an act of defiance. His grades were very bad.
And to hurt himself even further, Thomas admitted that he talked all day in class once again in defiance of teacher authority. â€œI was always cracking jokes, talking about the teacher. I was the class clown,â€ he said.
During his seventh grade year at St. Margaret of Scotland Early Learning Center in Maryland, he had seen four teachers in four-months. â€œThe principle said to the students I need you to pick out the three most disruptive students and those three will get kicked out of school. My name was the first oneâ€ He was kicked out.
While attending the Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore, Thomas got into a fight with a white student in class. â€œHe got in-school suspension. I got kicked out,â€ said Thomas. â€œThey called me a failure, said I was waste of classroom space and said I should just drop out of school. I ended up staying back that year because I got kicked out of school.â€
Asked how did he get through all of this negativity and anti-intellectual brainwashing, Thomas said, â€œI had parents who prayed for me. They just didnâ€™t leave it at prayer, but they encouraged me to get my life together.
â€œI remember my second tenth grade year waking up every morning getting ready for school I would hear my mother in her prayer closet crying and praying for me, praying that my mind and heart got through the mess I got myself into. It was when I started to hear my mother pray so hard and fervently for me to get my act together that I began to think differently.
â€œBut the key moment for me to get my life together was in 2004,â€ he said reflecting on the heavy political climate in America. â€œThere was a lot of political rap that came out including Kanye West and a movie by Chris Rock who wanted to be the first black president. After seeing that movie, Thomas said, â€œI started to connect with that movie. I started to connect a need for me to speak out not just what was going on in my life but also what was going on in the life for my brothers and sisters in the struggle.â€
Thomas decided he wanted to be president and comically quipped, but another good talking Negro beat me to that,â€ he said referring to President Barack Obama.
While he had a change of heart, Thomas couldnâ€™t erase his bad academic record of a high school GPA of 1.75. He credited his success to Howard Universityâ€™s director of Admissions who gave him a second chance.
Â â€œShe said if I took summer classes at a community college and you get straight Aâ€™s, then she would allow him to enter as a probationary student. I did exactly what I had to do and Howard let me in their doors, and Iâ€™ve never look back since. I am grateful to Howard University, my parents and to God for those second chances.â€
After meeting Father Pfleger, Thomas is dedicating his life to helping change the hearts of some troubled young black men. He blames the violence on a lack of education.
â€œIf you condition a society or an environment to treat a certain group of people like animals, sooner or later they are going to start acting like animals. I believe that is what is happening to our young black men.
â€œThe women have been held and protected by our community but with the young black men the need to service, the need to approve or asserts oneâ€™s manhood has been placed as the pinnacle of what it means to exist instead of being a righteous person, a person of integrity.
â€œNow, itâ€™s just we need to survive by any means necessary. We need to do by any means necessary. We need to hustle. If we need to, we need to kill people. We need to sell drugsâ€¦. While I deplore the immorality and theâ€ lack of righteousness he says is rampant in the black community, we have to speak out against the system that has caused black people, specifically young black men, to think they are inferior, to continue act like animals, to convince them they are less than.
â€œWhen you convince them they are less than, long enough, they will start acting like they are less than,â€ said Thomas. â€œThey are walking around here as if they are not human beings but rather like they are animals because weâ€™ve conditioned them to like animals.
â€œWhen one connects with the relationship with God, we now have a direct line to our Creator who says we are beautifully and wonderfully made in his image, that means there is something great and powerful about us inside of ourselves,â€ he stated.
â€œThere has no other people who have been deliberately set apart for degradation like black folks, not just slavery or poverty, but when a personâ€™s history has been stripped from themâ€ he says that is the seed of de-humanization that continues today.
Quoting historian John Henrik Clarke, Thomas said, â€œIf you start the history of black people with slavery, everything since then will look like progress but itâ€™s really not. I believe not only do we have to bring people to the knowledge of God the Creator, but we need to bring young black men to a knowledge of themselves.â€
He said they should be told about their origins and how itÂ â€œdidnâ€™t just start on the boat, the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria but rather their â€œancestry is a straight line to the beginning of human civilization.â€
Research, he said, â€œconnects everything back to Africa and if we start to get that longer view of connection back to Africa, that black folks didnâ€™t start as second class, then I believe our young black men will start to see greaterâ€ than the picture painted by this society. â€œI think we need to not only re-establish our connection with God but also with our knowledge of self,â€ said Thomas.
When asked who will teach them their history, Thomas said it wonâ€™t be the current leadership generation. â€œAnd, they may not be the generation of my generation. Itâ€™s going to be up to our generation, people in their 20â€™s and 30â€™s who need to start seeking after African history and re-connect the dots of a heritage so great and legacy so wonderful now so that when we make our transition into our ancestries, the young black women and men we leave behind will have more to work with in re-connecting the dots.â€
Thomas said it wonâ€™t happen over night but that it has to start one of these days. His goal is to â€œadd something to that pool.â€ Thomas plans on getting a Ph.D. in Africana studies. He quoted 2nd Corinthians: â€œWe live by faith, not by sight.â€
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.