When you get, give. When you learn, teach.
Be certain that you do not die without doing something wonderful
Listen to yourself and in a quietude you may hear God.
–– The late Maya Angelou, civil rights activist,
poet and novelist.
In the United States and elsewhere, every May and June, graduating students wear caps and gowns, and with family and friends, celebrate their achievements. In these happy moments, the sharp objects that lie along the road to success are smoothed by applause and the excitement of hooding.
At the same time the journey’s “potholes” are masked by handshakes, pictures and autographs. Only a few, like valedictorians, as they say farewell, get to publicly share stories about parents, mentors, failures and loans, among other things. This week I share an untold story.
Last weekend, Pastor Laurel Scott –– already accomplished in many ways, yet seeking to continue to serve –– officially received her Doctor of Divinity degree from the Boston University School of theology, the same school Martin Luther King Jr attended and received his PhD.
Laurel’s story, though unique, does symbolically tell the story of many Caribbean immigrants, and confirms that no one is an island.
Laurel received her early education in Barbados. She was encouraged to further her education by the life of a widely travelled father who died at age 49, just when she was beginning to enjoy his company.
“I learned about service to others from my dad Alfred Alexander Prescott, for he always put others ahead of himself. He was the quintessential Caribbean man in the USA.
“He first came to the USA through the farm workers programme –– picking fruit in Florida. He quickly made his way up the coast to New York City. He worked and studied, getting his dental technician’s licence and his Bachelor’s in finance from Queen’s College, CUNY. He worked on Wall Street during the day and
sold insurance at night. He was also a musician, playing the trumpet and leading a band on weekends.”
Then, to the successful road map of a father, let’s add the impact of a nurturing home of her grandmother, in which Laurel grew up.
“I remember that whenever I came home from school, and I was upset about something I had failed to accomplish, or was anxious about something that was about to occur, my grandmother with whom I lived for all of the time I was in Barbados, she would ask one question: ‘Laurel, did you do your best?’. When I said ‘yes’, as I inevitably did, she would say: ‘Well, angels can do no more’. She would also say, and I realize now that she was one of the most genuine theologians I have known, ‘No cross, no crown’.”
According to Laurel, her mother, after her own experiences in Britain, never intended to live in another big country, but she would come to the United States, to help Laurel as she furthered her education. She did not want her daughter to suffer the same indignities she had. Laurel calls this love.
“I thank my mother for her steadfast love. With God and mother, I am okay. She sacrificed for me, and I thank her for it. Now that she lives with me, and given my schedule, she blesses me in many ways: I get nutritious home-cooked meals, which are the best!
“You only get one mother. If she is still with you, you should treasure her. If you have difficulty understanding her, you figure zout a way to stay in communication and have patience with each other. If your mother is no longer with you, still recall the wisdom and love she shared. It is there.”
Laurel loves adventure and is unafraid to live outside the box. She admits that she stumbles and regroups. While on this recent journey, she was described as persistence personified by Bishop Martin Mc Lee. Laurel contends that those of us who love God hardly fall. And if we do fall, we get up.
Scott who is pastor of a United Methodist church in Port Washington, Long Island, explains how she got into the Methodist faith.
“When I was at a crossroads in my life, struggling to find my way and questioning what life was about, I met a Methodist minister who served on a community board with me. Naturally we got to talk and he encouraged me and invited me to visit his congregation, as I was looking for a spiritual home at the time. I attended a worship service and felt a strong call to that particular household of faith.”
Laurel first knew that she had “passed” in April, when she received a note from her advisor saying: “Ready for defence?”
Still, a past experience promoted some initial trepidation, which later turned into relief.
She had originally planned to study youth violence and test the theory that early training in Christian values could be an effective counter to violent tendencies in the teenage years. Eventually, inspired by a presentation at a conference by a Philippine immigrant, she decided to give a voice to immigrant life in the church by embracing the diversity in the nation, and chose for her dissertation To Welcome The Stranger: Hospitality With Ghanaian Immigrants In The United Methodist Church.
Now it may just be coincidence that Maya Angelou (Miss Calypso in early days), who has addressed many commencement activities, passed away at the same time graduates were celebrating their success. Be that as it may, as America mourns her passing, the retelling of her triumph over adversity should give hope to those who don’t believe all things are possible.
At a recent town meeting, Pastor Laurel Scott, said: “Prophets look at history in order to speak to the future.”
Right now, she plans to retire in Barbados, but she also said: “We may have our plans, but God may have other plans.”
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