When I was about twelve or thirteen years old I heard my grandfather say, “The only good white man is a dead one.” It was right after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. I don’t remember the exact date that my grandfather said it but it resonated in my head. So when I joined the Black Panther Party when I was seventeen or eighteen years old I thought, “I’m going to kill some white men so they won’t kill us.”
At that time in Mississippi segregation was the rule. If you were Negro, or Black, African American you couldn’t go to public schools. So I was homeschooled by my grandmother up until I was six years old. She would read the Bible and have us repeat it back to her. For example, Proverbs 3:5-6
5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.
My grandmother never had any education. She was taught how to read by a white lady in Mississippi she used to work for. I asked my grandmother one time, “Grandmother, why didn’t you get to go to school and learn how to read?” She said, “Well, back when I was growing up if you were a Negro and you were caught trying to learn they would kill you, or cut your tongue out. They wold do all sorts of things to you.”
My grandfather had no education. I think he went to the third grade. He told me, “Now son when you talk to white people you can’t look them in the eye. You gotta kind of look down because they don’t want you looking them in the eye.” He never really explained it to me completely, but he just told me that was the rule. So we went to town one time when I was twelve years old. I had totally forgotten about that rule. A white man said something to me. I looked at him. Then the man asked my grandfather, “What’s that boy looking at?” I can remember my grandfather grabbing my head with his hand and pushing it down, as he said, “Oh, Sir, he’s just looking at his shoes. He just shined them this morning and he’s just looking at them.” That put some fear in me for a long time. The following year, when I was thirteen Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. With all the racial tension overshadowing me I was really messed up.
I decided, “I’m going to join The Black Panthers. That’s the best way I can stop this racism crap.” We saw this white kid one day, on his bicycle. We said, “We’re going to take his bike.” So we followed him a little ways and ran up on him. I remember grabbing his handlebars, looking at his hands and seeing that they were white. But more than that I saw that they were hands. they weren’t claws or fins off of a fish. They were hands; human hands. And something dawned on me as I saw his hands. They were trembling. They were shaking, and he was crying. He was saying, “Please, please don’t hurt me. Please don’t take my bike.” I let the guy go. At that point and time, I realized I couldn’t be that person enraged with hate because of skin color because if I did that I’d be just like them.
Thirteen years went by I had a daughter. Marriage problems started. I was doing drugs. I spent nine months in the Colorado State Penitentiary. There were men in there that couldn’t read. Illiteracy! I was helping them read. My mind reflected back to when I was not allowed to read in Mississippi. I couldn’t get an education, and thought maybe these guys went through their problems and couldn’t get an education. I didn’t have a bible. I was just quoting scriptures from memory. It was what my grandmother had taught me. When they heard me doing this they started asking me questions. I just shared my story with them. I told them, “If you really want to get out of here, it's not so much about getting out of here. You got to get out of yourself. You got to pull all of that out of you, and put God in you. Then you’ll be free. It’ s not about breaking out of the jail. It’s about breaking out of yourself. It’s in helping others that we are really helping ourselves.” I had to admit I had a problem; the disease of addiction. I saw other guys with the same problem. It was humbling for me to see them admit that they had a problem. So we kind of worked on each other.
When I was not allowed to bury my mother in the town cemetery that reignited the racial thing with me. All of a sudden I hated all white people. I concluded, “White people are devils! They won’t let my mother be buried over here?” Then my uncle told me, “Well, son, that’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. That’s why we have our own cemetery.” When I went to the cemetery to look at it, it was desecrated. Beer bottles, beer cans, trash was everywhere. It didn’t even look like a cemetery. I thought, “We’re not burying my mother here.” There’s still a law there, Tishomingo County, Mississippi, that states “No black person, Negro, can be buried where white people are buried.” But I had to move past that because if I let that eat me up and grind me up where would I be today?
It took Christ. There’s no other explanation for it. I can’t do it on my own power. There are days when I still struggle with that. I have to keep myself under constant prayer; under constant subjection to Christ. You’ve got to have the Holy Spirit that dwells within you to differentiate within you what is good and what is evil; what is wrong and what is right.
When I first heard the name, Steve Ball, I thought, “This must be a black preacher.” so I went to the church and see this white man up there. I look around the church and see a pretty good mixture. I see Black. I see Hispanic. I see Asian. I see African. I see Caucasian. There is no perfect church, but *Metro Tab, to me, looks like heaven. I think I actually said that before Steve Ball.