Verdell is an excited young preacher, a passionate scholar, and a social media nut. An alum of Howard University School of Divinity and a current student at Wesley Theological Seminary, he wants to use his research to create change in the lives of those around him. Verdell currently serves as the Youth Director for Lanham United Methodist Church in Lanham, MD. He also helps churches get their social media ministries off of the ground. You can find him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/verdellanthony) or Twitter (@vee_wright).
[Below is his story about how childhood bullying impacted him throughout his adult life. It was a chance encounter in seminary that made Superman finally take off the superhero cape. Read his story below.]
I felt called to the Christian ministry, so I decided to enroll at Howard University School of Divinity in the spring of 2009. I wanted to preach and pastor, but I strongly believed that I should have an understanding of the faith that I would spend my life talking about. As my classes began and I engaged the otherness of World Religions, the Greco-Roman backdrop of the New Testament, and the theological complexity of the Old Testament, my heart and mind developed a different kind of thirst. It was a thirst for truth, regardless of what it took or what it cost.
Little did I know that search for truth would lead right into the depths of my own soul, into places that were locked away for years.
I remember meeting the gentleman who now functions as a mentor to me in my Church Administration class. He was my professor. I gave a presentation concerning a new ministry idea for my final project. At the end of the class, he congratulated me and told me to contact him if I needed anything else in the future. Usually, I wouldn’t have responded to such an offer, but at this time in my life I was searching for so much.
I was a very young man, three years out of undergrad. I cleaned up well, and put on a good front, but my heart was filled with layers of brokenness and fear that I had yet to comprehend or engage. Countless issues from my past where not resolved or even recognized. Top that off with the fact that my life up to that point had been one financial tragedy after another, and there were things about myself that I just didn’t understand yet.
Why did I always feel so different?
Why do I always feel so adrift and distant from the people around me?
Will I ever be at peace?
Somewhere along the way I managed to convince myself that these feelings where the normal flow of life, which enabled me to seem happier than I was. Looking back, I was always about two good steps from depression and mental breakdown. But my years of denial taught me to balance well, so I rarely fell over the edge. Still, the hope of something different was enough to cause me to reach out. I emailed my professor, former professor since the class was now over, somehow hoping on the inside that he would have answers to my questions.
We met at TGI Friday’s over lunch. He asked me questions about myself that caused me to give out so much of my story. I told him about getting teased in school. I told him about the bullying. I told him about always feeling awkward. I told him things that people I’ve known for years haven’t heard.
He smiled. “That because you’re a genius. You know that, right?”
I almost scoffed. A genius?
“You don’t realize it because it’s so natural to you. The way you easily connect ideas and concepts. That’s why everyone else in the class would be scratching their heads and you’re over there in your seat having a ball. What’s work to everyone else is fun for you.”
He asked me to talk about the bullying. For some reason, I told him stories that my parents didn’t even know. I told him about the times I was verbally accosted for years walking down the halls of elementary and middle school. I mentioned the frequency with which I would come home with a busted lip or ripped clothes because of being jostled around. I recounted the time when I was surrounded by a bunch of boys in the bathroom and was knocked into a metal pipe so hard that I collapsed.
I told him about the time that an older kid punched me in the face so hard that it knocked me out, and then left me in the middle of the field. All because I didn’t fight another kid my own age.
I told him about getting dragged to an abandoned tennis court when I was about nine, when I was beaten with a red stick by someone I had no hope of defending myself against.
My professor looked at me, his eyes filled with compassion and honesty at the same time. He spoke words that I didn’t want to hear, yet couldn’t turn away from.
“Verdell, that was more than just bullying. That was abuse.”
Truth unraveled my whole world. For so long I considered the abuse that I endured from 3rd to 8th grade as simple growing pains. Labeling it as bullying made the abuse trivial, almost to be expected, like annoying ants in the springtime or flies. No big deal, just a part of life that everyone goes through. Somehow, I convinced myself that those years of being called faggot, gay, punk, sissy where just part of normal life in the hood. I bought into the story that it was normal to go to school terrified and come home bloody. Hearing the “a-word” cut through years of my own mental conditioning, leaving me with nothing but the raw reality of my pain.
Why did I create this story, this fallacy concerning the truth of what happened to me? I’m not entirely sure, but I have my guesses. I wanted to protect the image of my perfect childhood. Growing up in a relatively “normal” household with my parents and sister in the hood was a novelty. What right did I have to complain when I had two parents that loved me and a safe household? Surely a lot of the children in my class would love to be in my position. Life can’t be perfect and this is just my lot. My mom would tell me that God has a purpose for me, and that’s why life was so damned tough. It seemed like a good reason, but some days I wished that Jesus would find more creative and less painful ways to direct my path.
I didn’t want to deal with the feelings of abandonment and hopelessness that I felt every time I walked out of the door to school. I remember being so downtrodden and worn from the constant barrages that I stopped looking up when I walked. I just hung my head low and plodded wherever I went, to the point that I would run into things. I was afraid to look up. A teacher in 4th grade had to actually to help me relearn how to walk with my head up. I had forgotten how to do that. To this day, there are times when walking with my head held high is a conscious effort.
I held on this fantasy concerning my reality because the truth was too much to bear. The years of pain and abuse only happened because schoolteachers looked the other way. And when evidence of my pain was clear, which it obviously must’ve been, no one did anything to help me. No rescue. No savior. No amount of prayers halted the fists and verbal jabs. No help from gym teachers or school administrators. And no, not even my parents.
I used these years of horrific events to inform my sense of self. Using revisionist logic, I concluded that my abuse, hurt, and shame was all my responsibility. I was weak and infirm, and all the things that happened to me took place because something was wrong with me. There must be something wrong with being a little boy that rather read a book than throw a football. There must be a problem with a kid that would rather play on the swings than misbehave. Being smart and doing well in school is an awful thing, and that’s why I was harassed so much. I brought it on myself.
That was when I created a disguise, a Clark Kent persona if you will. I intentionally would dumb myself down so I wouldn’t bring attention to myself. While I couldn’t name my great, god-given gifts, I perceived them. And since I had no way to defend myself from the negativity that my gifts drew, I buried them. It was survival. I wanted the pain to stop, the pain in my body, the pain in my heart and my mind. The creation of my Clark Kent disguise and the edited version of my reality served to do just that. In its place, though, was a numbness that I carried for almost two decades. While that numbness wasn’t good either, it was a hell of a lot better than pain.
I remember crying at some point during the lunch with my professor. And if it wasn’t at the lunch, it was certainly at some point later on in the day. The world that I so careful constructed no longer existed. The lies I told myself to function where stripped of their power. Truth had laid me bare. My search for the truth about God led me to discovering the truth about myself, the lies that I was told, and the lies that I spun to protect myself. Anyone who takes their seminary education seriously will tell you that you can’t control truth. I agree, however, truth can certainly be avoided. It is that much more of a blessing (curse?) when truth decides to go looking for you instead, denying you the opportunity to live life on your own terms.
I was not allowed to create a reality where my pain didn’t matter. Not any longer. This realization was just the beginning of many stops along the journey of truth. One thing was becoming very clear though: the more honest I was about God, the more I discovered myself.
“Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right.” Proverbs 8:6
— Verdell A. Wright