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Last Updated: 03/11/2010
Seeking Opportunities for Intervention: One woman’s efforts to positively influence inner-city youth: Interview with Mary Wade
Interview conducted by Nicole Loschke

Mary Wade returned to the U.S. after 35 years living abroad. Upon returning she observed the changing attitudes of inner-city youth. She noticed the violence, aggression, drug use and abundance of weapons. In an effort to change the negative path these youth are choosing Wade established BRIC, a youth program designed to teach respect, tolerance and understanding in Philadephia.

Nicole Loschke: So Mary, can you tell me about your program in Philadelphia?

Mary Wade: Yes I do two things out of Philly, one, and the main one, is BRIC. B-R-I-C which means Building Respect In Community. In the area of my church, there is a lot of gun violence; over 300 killings in Philadelphia per year, at least 60-70% African American, mostly youth between the ages of 13 and into their late 20s. When I came home from Germany I discovered that there was so much disrespect, that I wasn’t used to. I’d been gone from Philadelphia for 35 years. It was the language, the way people talked to each other, the way they treated each other.

NL: Especially coming from Guam or Okinawa…

MW: And Germany. Even living in Maryland and Virginia, I always lived in the suburbs, I did not see, so after I came home to take care of my mom, she had Alzheimer’s, and I was surprised at what I heard in the neighborhood. So I started BRIC after my mom died and after I finished my PhD. I got the PhD in 2003 and started BRIC the same year. I had done some speaking on respect in my church and different churches, but I had not started the organization until 2003.

We just focus on a small area, four blocks around the church, although word has spread about it all out, you would think we were huge. But four blocks around the church, mostly with the youngsters, we have activities; teaching respect. We use movies, they play games, but always we tutor them regarding the way they talk to each other, the way they treat each other, the way they fight each other, they always fight, to stop them from fighting, tell them to talk and not fight. We have an annual week of peace in the neighborhood, we start with a parade for peace, and the kids love it, we have banners, we have signs that say “Love Peace and Respect on the Block.” They march all through the neighborhood and further around. We give them little prizes for being the most respectful during that week, the most peaceful during that week, the most helpful during that week. We show them movies, just before I left we showed the movie, Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror. I had them stand in front of a mirror at the end of the program and had them look at themselves and asked what they saw, “Did they like what they see?” Most said “no.” I asked “Why?” And they were able, probably from the seven year olds up, they were able to say why they did not like what they saw. All of it had to do with their attitudes they knew that the way they were was not the way they wanted to be. So, I hugged each of them, and some of these kids, particularly those who are in Junior High and High School, tears came to their eyes. One boy, I asked him what was it that he did not like, and he said he was acting up in school. I asked him what did he do. He said he would get up and run around class and yell and the teacher would get very upset and the kids laughed. I asked him if he knew why and he said he did not know. So I hugged him and asked him if he thought he could not do it, and he said he didn’t know. So I hugged him and I told him, every day when you get up, pray that today in school you act the way you want to act. And I understand from his Grandmother that he’s doing better, but they need is continuous reinforcement, and that’s what we don’t have right now. We’re about to show the movie about Dr. Daniel Carson who was an African American who ended up practicing and teaching at John Hopkins University. To show that you can come out of the neighborhood and do good. We’re going to show a movie, something about Judge Mathis; how he came out of the neighborhood, out of the jail and decided to turn himself around. So we show them things like this, but always we are reinforcing that each of them is very important.

Transitioning to the other organization that I do, I send out a monthly email that I started in 1992 after I came back from Germany. The name of the email is basically Light and Healing, but we call ourselves, “One Light.” When I was in Germany I started something called “Light Messenger” for children who were getting into trouble in schools on the Military Bases and I brought it back to the U.S., teaching it to adults. It was a six hour training course and it taught that we are all lights and in order to live our lights there are at least three things we should consider:

1) The state of our internal order.

2) Do we have a sense of purpose?

3) What is our vision for our life and all life?

The idea is to get everyone thinking that your life is much bigger than yourself. We have, across the country, people who call themselves “Light Messengers.” One light came out of that, because the president, during his campaign, asked all Americans to elevate ourselves, he said we can all be better than we are. When you would hear him and see him, he was always inclusive and he was always saying we can be better than we are. I took the 12 attributes that we practice every month, we have since ’92, “Light Messengers”, and I turned it into “One Light”, indicating that each of us are lights and in order to make this government and this country work, we really must be honest about ourselves and be willing to explore our own selves, and hold a crown over our head and allow ourselves to grow into it. Grow into it, so that we open up and allow the light from out to come in and the light within to come out, that is a practice, it’s a lot of practice. Basically, I send the Newsletter out, March 1st I sent it to about 250 people across the country. […] But we have members mostly in the United States.

I just came off a speaking tour [….] where I talked about “One Light.” How our light is bigger than any religion, any race, any political system, anything that man has devised, that our light is greater than that.

The first thing God said was “Let there be light.” The power of that light filled the universe, and the power of that light is in every one of us.

I am criticized by mostly family and friends who are mostly disappointed because I don’t make much money. They thought that when I got the PhD, certainly by now she’ll settle down. She was offered teaching positions, she was offered this, that and the other, and she didn’t accept anything. So some family members basically stopped speaking to me for a while […] And they worry, just as they worry about me coming here [Costa Rica]. They don’t understand that we are all free, so much freer than we ever know and that God sends what we need when we need it.

I always tease them, I say, oh you all are in church every Sunday, I sit in the pulpit and I watch you, and you’re praying and you’re singing and you’re Hallelujahing and Amening. And then you go home, and on your way home you’re not nice to people if they bump into you at the store. You go home and you argue about anything. By the time you get home from church you’re angry. You’re afraid of your neighbors and other people. So what all the Hallelujahing and praying etc about; if it’s not to receive the bounty of the feeling that Jesus died for us? They say, oh we don’t like people who are of different religions, oh they’re Catholics, oh they’re Jehovah Witnesses, oh God they’re Muslims! What is a Buddhist? You know, they’re so afraid of what they don’t know, and don’t want to hear because it threatens them.

So I live a simple life […]

I still email the president, I call the White House, I call my congressmen, I participate with other organizations [….] but if I don’t do it out of my peace, how can I be clear about what I’m doing […] The secret is to find the peace inside you and nurture it, cultivate it.

I teach on my own, I’m invited to lecture, I just sent out something on reconciliation[…] The other group that I started in Philadelphia, at the Seminary, with pastors, we call ourselves the “Thurman Group.” Because the title of my dissertation was “Spirituality and Conflict Resolution: the Study of the Life and Teachings of Dr. Howard Thurman.” I found that many of the seminaries across the country teach a little bit about Thurman, mostly from one of his books, “Jesus and the Disinherited.” But they don’t really know about him, so I started a Thurman Group and we will have a conference on July 10th. I sent an email yesterday on reconciliation, just talking about Thurman’s ideas on reconciliation.

The reason is that president keeps talking about reconciliation, and Lamar Alexander, one of the Senators does not feel that we should combine the discussion of politics with reconciliation, it throws everything off. We should not ask for senators, discussing health care, to be thinking about reconciliation, but rather how to get, what they consider to be in their minds the best policy. The president’s position is that until we have some kind of meeting with the spirit and a meeting with the heart, we cannot do what’s best for the American people, he really believes that. I don’t agree with everything he does, although I knew he was going to do some of the things, I still didn’t agree with [….] He’s not representing Mary Wade, or her friends, or the progressive movement, but all of Americans. But his position, Alexander said […] Up here, meaning up here on the hill, we do not believe in comprehensive change. Now that’s been in my mind ever since and I will probably write something about that. He’s telling the president, all of this changing you want; at one time we do not believe in it, even with health care, we do not believe in comprehensive care change, but rather piece-by-piece-by-piece, which will take forever. I didn’t hear the presidents retort, but I will read about it today […] But the president’s belief is if we run on a campaign of change, and we’re serious about it, then we just can’t be piece-meal.

He’s being deeply criticized, in parts of the African American community. If you listen to the radio stations, because some African Americans thought that he was going to come in and change everything for African Americans. He never said that, he said I am President of the United States of America. What they don’t understand is that when you change America for the best, for the better, you change the attitude and the mood of the nation from so much hatred, that helps. If you get the members of the Congress to work together, if you get them to think about those, not just in their own states, but all Americans, then that benefits all Americans. Because when the heart of the nation is hatred, then it hurts all Americans. Or if you can get a policy that benefits the farmers, then that helps everybody, because we all have to eat. At the same time, if you get a policy that helps those in the urban areas where there might be 25% unemployment, that helps everybody, because then they’re not draining off the economy, but rather they’re supporting it. So this is his position, we need to be thinking about everybody. Well we have African Americans that are on the radio every day, saying you know he’s a sellout, he’s a this, I won’t tell you some of the names they call him; we thought he’d be better for the people, that’s why we voted for him; we’re not going to vote for him next time. Every now and then I’ll call in and I’ll say, well if you want a president that just represents your little group, run your own candidate for president for your own little group, see how far you get, and then I’m cussed out on the radio.

NL: What was your PhD?

MW: Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The title of my dissertation was “Spirituality and Conflict Resolution: Study of the Life and Teachings of Dr. Howard Thurman.”

NL: And can you talk a little more about the BRIC project. How many youth do you have now?

MW: We cover four blocks, each block has, well it varies, we have some abandoned houses, but the most intent is 30 members. Others from the other neighborhoods, because their block captains and the parents are not helpful in getting them there; they want to come to play basketball, but when it comes down to the actual sitting down and talking, it’s about 30 youth. And what we tell those 30 youth is that they can change the whole neighborhood, once they decide that they want to change things, once they decide they want to change themselves.

NL: This is the total group, or just from one block?

MW: This is just one block. From the entire group, youth that have participated is honestly not more than about 60. Because some blocks don’t have as many youth and in some neighborhoods not all the youth participate. We say it’s the total, and it is, but now these youth, it is interesting, are telling other youth. For example, we had two young men who came to our last activity, “The Man in the Mirror” I had never seen them before, they were from another block. And there friends brought them and asked if they could come, even though they weren’t from one of the four blocks. And I said, well yes of course. Interesting enough, one of the ones who came, about 12 years old, was so creative, so talented. And his mother came and brought his little sister, and came and sat with the baby on her lap the whole time, but he is one of the most creative kids I’ve ever seen. One things I had them do was in 20 minutes, make up a dance, or write a poem or write a rap about peace on the block. This guy got with another kid, they wrote the most amazing song in 20 minutes and sang it. Another group of three wrote a poem and I asked members of our organization to publish the poem.

These kids are so talented, many do not do well in school. Because they don’t have the discipline, but at least I know half of our 30 kids are doing well in school. And I know at least five or six of them who have improved substantially since they started with us. What we do appears to be nothing, but it’s empowering them.

But that’s basically the 30. The others, as they get older, they’ll walk by or they’ll peep in, or they’ll come in. We got a few 16 year-olds, one 17 year old that came in one day and he sat in the back and when it was time, we always serve them something to eat, these kids don’t always get the right nutrition, and he wanted something to eat, you can have something of course. I said, would you like to tell the people why you don’t come anymore, and he just did like this [shrugged the shoulders], and I said, is it because your friends laugh or talk badly about you coming here, and he just did like this [shrugged the shoulders]. Then I said to him, I saw him just before I left, I saw him walking past the church, and I said, are you still a member of BRIC? He said yes. I said do you still remember what we teach? He said yes. I said, do you carry a gun? Because a lot of kids around that age carry a gun, he said no. I said do you smoke drugs? Because there are a lot of drugs and kids start around 12 or 13, I said do you smoke drugs, he said no. I said okay, you’re still a member of BRIC. And one other day I saw him and I said okay, I want you to talk to the people.

At a certain age, they drop off; peer pressure. We have not developed a program that fits their particular needs. What we are about to do, I told some men who are supporters of us, that as soon as I get back, we will plan a men’s conference on respect. I did that on parenting, a community conference on parenting and respect.

Last May we had an elder’s appreciation, we had young people, who are not members of BRIC incidentally, but young people, interview five elders, learn their life story and then the elders invited their families; families came from as far as New York. The youth told the story of that eldes and then the elder, if they felt that there was something pertinent that was left out, the elder then told the rest of the story. It was so beautiful, particularly for the young people. We talked to the young people afterwards and they were just astounded by what they had learned. We gave flowers, we gave certificates to the youth and to the elders, we gave flowers to everyone that was in the room. We started with 60 and it grew to as far as 85.

While we focus on those 30 youth, somehow we gain a reputation in the community. You would think it was this huge group of people, but active membership, coming to the meetings, there’s never more than 10. Most from our church, some come from other churches. We have four churches involved in a minimum way; we do circle of prayer in the community. But mainly it’s the church that I’m associate minister of.

It seems that people on the radio are speaking about BRIC. People are talking about BRIC as if we’re doing all this, but we’re not doing much. What we do, we try to help as many people as 30 members, sometimes is 40, but most of the time it’s 30; so that by the time they’re teenagers, by the time their 15 or 16, when they start carrying the guns, getting into that circle that is so violent and hateful, that they will come in the door and talk to us.

NL: What is the name of your church?

MW: Wayland Temple Baptist Church. My Pastor is Reverend Robert Lovett.

NL: If you could sum up the objective of BRIC into one sentence, what would it be?

MW: It’s to teach and demonstrate the importance of an appreciation of respect in community for both youth and adults. BRIC means Building Respect in Community, singular, not plural, not communities, which is how you see people write it. Community, in the community that you live in, because everything starts where you are.

NL: How can people find out more about your work?

MW: BRIC? Email me.

NL: Do you have a website?

MW: We have a “One Light” website, but we don’t have a BRIC website.

But mostly, email me about BRIC or One Light is the best way:

NL: Theory versus practice…You are very practical, but at this University we’re very theoretical. You mentioned Thurman….

MW: If you were to look at his life…My friends would have told you not to ask me about Thurman, because I can go on for hours. My brother-in-law said he never got a PhD or even a BA, but he knows more about Thurman than most PhD’s. Life is not theoretical, its practical, its hands on. We can learn the theory of relativity, but if you don’t figure out how to make it useful in the human, both discourse and interchange, it’s of no use. You can theorize about peace and write a whole dissertation five times on peace, but if I can’t walk among the Ticos or the Armenians, the Rwandans or the Germans, with a genuine caring for their life and my attitude toward that life, it doesn’t matter. I can want the war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and everywhere else in the world to stop, but if I can’t see any Iraqi, or Afghan, Taliban, an Al-Qaeda member, if I can’t see one, and in my heart, if I don’t want the very best for them, then I’m just theorizing. If I feel that strangers or people who think different than me are my enemies and therefore, not worthy of my humanity, then I am just theorizing about peace. The difference is how I approach every person that I meet with my attitude, with my thoughts about them, with my language about them when they’re not in my presence; most of all, with my longing for the best for them. I preach this every Sunday, a longing for the best for them, and if I don’t do these things, then I can sit in George Mason, I can sit in Oxford, I can sit in Harvard, I can sit in La Universidad para La Paz, and not be a peace maker, I’m just there theorizing, that’s all. That’s the difference in the study of peace is whether you learn the theory or you learn the practice; you learn to think about it and to write about it, or you learn to live it. Because really you can’t teach what you don’t live. Because people hear and they write the notes that they see and they feel and they sense. It is what they feel that you feel and sense what you sensed about them that leads to either war or peace.

NL: So in this context what advice would you have for UPEACE graduates or anyone in general, and secondly, President Obama?

MW: I have high hopes for this University, that when the students go back to their country they will not separate themselves from the people. That they go back with a deep love in their heart for their own people and for those that they’ve met here, so that they go back expanded. And then that their love in their hearts for their self and their own people will encourage them to do everything in their hearts and in their minds and that they’ve learned theoretically, to improve lives as well as spread the humanity, of and among their people. What I’m trying to say that humanity for each other is spread, but for humanity for the rest of the world. So don’t separate yourself from the people, become even more a part of the people and then expand the community of the people to the world.

President Obama, he’s learning what he did not understand. I would tell him, without too much hubris, arrogance, that he is alright, number one, he’s alright. I’m sure that after what he’s been through this last year, he’s had to quiver in his boots. But, to keep in his heart his original desire to represent all of the people, in both his economic and social policies. I know what he had in his mind originally; but I know what he has run into. But also, to continue to love, and he does, the people of the world. He has been criticized in some circles for considering himself a world citizen, deeply criticized. So there is an organized effort to cut him down so that he is unable to do much in America as well as foreign affairs. So I would tell him, as my mother used to tell me: change what you can, compromise where you must, so long as it’s not a compromise of your personal integrity.

Mary L. Jones-Wade was born in Savannah, Georgia and raised in Philadelphia, Pa., one of 13 children including a twin sister. Educated in Philadelphia public schools I later attended the Universities of Guam and Dayton, graduating with a B.A. in Anthropology, Boston Univ. European Division in Stuttgart, Germany, M.A. in International Relations, and George Mason University, Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, with a dissertation entitled, Spirituality and Conflict Resolution: A Study of the Life, Teachings and Practices of Dr. Howard Thurman.

The most enjoyable work was serving as Human Rights Specialist at the Quaker United Nations Office, interacting daily with other NGO’s, and UN Delegates. The focus was on facilitating communications and reconciliation. Another enjoyable work was developing and presenting to religious leaders on behalf of the city of Philadelphia a course entitled Conflict Transformation: A Spiritual Approach to Conflict Identification. I currently serve on the Quaker Nobel Peace Prize nominating Committee, and on the board of Heeding God’s Call, an effort started my Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethern to stop the spread of guns in our communities.

I have served as lay leader at the 5th General Chapel in Stuttgart, Germany, assistant to the pastor in Forte Washington, Maryland, and currently serve as associate minister at Wayland Temple Baptist in Philadelphia, Pa. A strong affinity toward Quakerism, and living in other countries among people of other religions enables me to respect the religion and rights of others.

Having lived on Okinawa, Guam, and Germany, and traveled to more than forty nations has furthered my appreciation for the people of the world. Out of these experiences I have formed five organizations over a lifetime. These are, Building Respect in Community (BRIC), Family Unity Org., African-American Committee on the UN, Light Messenger, and One Light. I have recently formed The Thurman Group among pastors and lay people to teach spirituality and conflict resolution through the life and lense of Dr. Thurman.

Through these ministries I continue to travel extensively, speaking, preaching, and reading poetry.

A self-published poet my latest work is Touching the Dream: Poems and Prayers for Obama and the Nation. Others include, But for the Touch, Sisterin in the Light

Of the Spirit, Three Books to the Realness of Life, I am Free, The Reality of Man.