I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(From Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson, 1987)
I’m in an online doctoral program and the first assignment each week is to respond to a devotional thought. The question this week was:
“Think about times in your life when you have felt that God has chosen you, perhaps with others, to witness a change. What was the change? Did you embrace the change?”
My mind went quickly back to the late summer of 1976 when, as a junior in high school in Jackson, Mississippi, I made a life-altering decision for which I am eternally grateful. I’ve written about it before, but our family’s move from Oklahoma City to Jackson just prior to my sophomore year was mostly a challenge for the first year or so.
Attending a predominately African-American high school, Jim Hill, in a neighborhood adjacent to Jackson State University near downtown, I found myself on the other side of the majority/minority scale. It was unsettling, not because of any specific issues with other students, but simpy because it was so different from my previous school experiences.
I told myself that I had no issue with being in the minority but I also allowed myself to wonder if I might do better in one of the many private, so-called Christian academies in the area.
Deep down, I also knew that my height and slowness afoot would make it difficult to ever get any playing time on the Tiger basketball team. Turns out I was right as we had three guys in my class, plus two more underclassmen, sign Division 1 scholarships, and two of them ended up in the NBA!
So, at the start of my junior year, I enrolled at one of those private schools and promptly started working out with the guys who planned on trying out for basketball later in the semester. I lasted two days. I had to see if I could go back to Jim Hill.
Thankfully, two key mentors, among many other significant teachers at Hill, welcomed me back.
The first was Jerry Gibson, a history teacher and the recently-named head coach of the baseball team who knew that I had a much better shot at 3rd base than I did at point guard. Along the way, he taught me the value of respect, playing the game the right way, and the necessity of hard work.
The other was Mary Meredith who I later learned was married to one of our country’s most notable civil rights icons, James Meredith. Mr. Meredith, the first black student at Ole Miss. He was famous, but it was his wife who made the bigger impact on my life.
Mrs. Meredith was an English teacher and sponsor of The Echo, the school newspaper. She made me the editor of the sports section and I ended up doing pretty well with it. Even won a few awards in the Mississippi Scholastic Press Association. My In the Sportlight column highlighted many of our athletes’ exploits on the courts and on the fields, but I also found a way to work on building school spirit and encouraging a positive outlook on life.
There’s so much more that could be said but back to the Michael Jackson Mirror reference…
Coming home from that second and last day at the private school as a 16 1/2-year-old junior, I looked myself in the mirror and said: “Is this who you want to be or is there something better for you to chase after?”
It was as if God was saying, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, then make a change!”
I did, so I did, and it made a world of change in me!