“The Trip of a Lifetime,” column for Nov. 6, 2012

Twelve years ago, I was invited by friends to go to Los Angeles to celebrate New Year’s and attend services at a church in Watts. I’d been a widow for two years, and couldn’t recall the last time I’d celebrated New Year’s. So I said the magic word: Yes.

Sometimes that’s all it takes, isn’t it? God doesn’t care if we’re smart or capable or good. He just wants us to be willing.

So on the first Sunday of a new millennium, I went to Bethel Unspeakable Joy Fellowship in South Central L.A., and heard Pastor Carol Houston talk about her dream to take children from her church — kids who’d never been out of the city — on a three-week bus trip across the country.

My first thought was: “That woman is crazy.” As a coach’s wife, I’d spent plenty of time on buses with kids. I wanted no part of it. But as a child, I’d had people who dreamed for me, too. I could hear that dream in Pastor Carol’s voice, see it in her eyes, feel it in my soul. I could dream it with her. But I was not about to get on that bus.

So I wrote a column about it and told myself that was that. A few weeks later, Pastor Carol wrote to say they’d been getting donations from people around the country who had read the column, believed in the dream and wanted to help it come true. Also, she said, the children had decided I had to go, too.

That’s how I ended up on the bus. Pastor Carol told me to sit with 9-year-old Darrin Oliver. Darrin wasn’t thrilled about it, but he was a good sport.

In Washington, D.C., the kids could hardly wait to go to the Lincoln Memorial.

“What’s the rush?” I said.

Darrin rolled his eyes. “That’s where Dr. King gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech,” he said.

When we climbed the steps to the memorial, the children fell silent and sat alone, looking out at the view the Rev. Martin Luther King had seen.

The next day, we toured the White House after Pastor Carol explained to us the significance of the building and what she’d do if we did not behave inside.

In Baltimore, we visited the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and saw black history in horrific detail from slavery through the civil-rights movement. Leaving the city, one child said: “This place makes Watts look good.”

At one point, I nodded off on the bus — head back, mouth open — and woke to see a half-dozen faces laughing down at me. “What’s so funny?” I said.

Tinika grinned: “We never saw a white woman sleeping before.”

In Philadelphia, we toured Independence Hall. In New York, we went to the top of the Empire State Building and jumped rope on the deck of a ferry sailing around Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

I could tell you so many stories from that trip, how it felt for me, someone who’d grown up in the segregated South, to be treated like family by a preacher from Watts and the lambs of her flock.

It was the trip of a lifetime — for me as much as for the kids.

Recently, at Pastor Carol’s invitation, I spoke at a dinner to celebrate Youth Tour 2000. It was quite a reunion, seeing people I’d not seen in 12 years, children all grown up and chaperones who’d not changed a bit. Darrin couldn’t make it. He was busy studying in his final year at New York University.

I talked about memories from the trip, things we’d seen and done. Then I told them this:

I believe in children. I believe it’s our duty as parents, pastors, teachers and communities to show them that they are smart and capable and loved.

I believe, if we can show them the world with all its flaws and perfections, they’ll dream their own dreams, find ways to make it better and say “yes” to life.

Finally, to set the record straight, I said this: The kids were wrong about me on the bus that day. Sometimes you look like you’re sleeping. But really, you’re just waking up.


  1. Pamela Hanks says

    I thoroughly enjoyed your story “The trip of a lifetime.” God is so great! He can place small miracles in our paths without our knowing or understanding until the miracle has been revealed! Thanks SO much for sharing yours!!!!

  2. Sharon,

    Just when I think you can’t surprise me any more, you do. What a beautiful story, perfect for Election Day.

    Thanks so much,


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