52 Weeks of Gratefulness #13 – Mrs. Cunningham

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Mrs. Cunningham (Twitter)

In Week 13 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Cunningham.

I only remember three things about Mrs. Cunningham:

The first is that she ate these weird looking apples with red jelly covered seeds that she use to suck on at her desk. I’d later come to learn this fruit was called a pomegranate.

The second is this story that she told us in class about someone in her family who was going so fast on a motorcycle that when he crashed the force of the collision hurled him into a telephone phone, sticking him to it by his ribs. It was at that point I decided never to ride a motorcycle.

The third and most important is something she said to me that changed my life forever.

Throughout my life, black women, especially, have had this superpower of perceiving and projecting the best version of who they believed we were destined to become. In the depths of my soul I know that no other voice besides God’s has greater impact in a young black man’s life than that of an affirming black woman.

This wasn’t some Jedi mind trick or some form of psychological manipulation. I believe they earnestly believed in your potential. They seemed to always approach you in the context of the promising view they held of you. Even when they caught you in the midst of wrongdoing, they would say something like, “Now, Mr. Luckett, I know you’re a gentleman and gentleman don’t act like that.” They conveyed an expectation that you wanted to live up to.

One day, Mrs. Cunningham looked intensely at me, to the point I was embarrassed and thought I was in trouble, and she said to me, “Mr. Luckett, you’re a leader. See me after class.” It was that day that she made me a school crossing guard for G.N. Smith Elementary. I remember her walking me to the Principal’s office and giving me my uniform. It was the old fashioned kind, it wasn’t a vest but sort of a reflective belt with a strap that ran diagonally across your chest. I revered that uniform and felt the weight of its responsibility every time I put it on. It was too big for me but I grew into it. My job was helping people to safely get from one point to another. The profundity of that never left me.

I was a crossing guard 5th grade and 6th grade. I went on to my beloved middle school, Bailey Magnet, looking to serve. I was a class representative to the student government “Knights Of The Roundtable” for 7th grade and 8th grade, class president 9th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade and student body president 12th grade. I became president of the Metro-Jackson Student Council and the student representative to the Jackson Public School Board. Today, I try to serve wherever I can, largely because my 5th grade teacher said, “You’re a leader.”

She believed it, then so did I. I’m grateful. #52WoG #teachers #education #blackwomen #leadership

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #12 – Martin Coleman

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Martin Coleman (Twitter)

In Week 12 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Martin Coleman.

One Sunday after service, Marty Coleman walks up, “Hey Brother Paul. I understand you have a business that does computer work. There is someone I think you should meet.”

He then waves over a young man who seems tired and despondent. His approach toward us from across the room was slow and labored. He’s disheveled. His hair is matted to his head with gel. His clothes are wrinkled like he had just rolled out of bed with them on. His glasses are so hazed, perhaps from the gel in his hair, that I can barely see his eyes.

Though his approach seemed reluctant, when we started talking, he opened up easily enough. He’s a gamer. He knows his way around technology by having built custom and very sophisticated gaming computers. Brother Marty’s hope was that I would be able to give this young man a job.

This is not long after the Great Recession. One of my largest clients, representing twenty-five percent of my business’s income, was a casualty of the economic downturn. I lost them to closure and many of my remaining clients cut their retainers in half. I feel personally responsible for the people that I hire. Each time I extend employment, my heart and philosophy is to provide that person a home either until they are ready to move on or, preferably, until we’ve helped them to advance in their career. I try not to hire anyone unless I feel there’s a good chance that I can provide that.

But, with the cuts, I couldn’t sustain the staff I had and was scrambling to find safe places for each of my employees to land. By the grace of God, opportunities -even better than they had with me opened up for every one of them. I was so thankful and relieved. Anyone that employs people knows that it is no small undertaking; taxes, withholding, reporting -just maintaining the revenue to make payroll is a tremendous burden. After having miracuously averted the near disaster of having to lay staff off, leaving people who are dear to me without means to provide for their families, I was perfectly content to go it alone for a while. I did not have any appetite for hiring anyone else and going through that again.

But, God.

My default position on the proposition of hiring anyone was flatly “no”. But, there was this nagging notion that this wasn’t just about hiring someone. I had a sense that this may be from God. But, I resisted it. It wasn’t anything I wanted to do. Business wasn’t great. I didn’t even know if I could really financially afford another a person but that nagging notion would not relent. I shared it with my wife who said, “If you believe this is something God is leading you to do baby, you need to be open and to trust Him.”

So, I begin to move in the direction I believed God may be leading. I start making calls. I learn that the young man is in recovery from a drug and alcohol addiction, has not long gotten out of prison and is staying with another brother from our fellowship. But, I find myself with a compassion I cannot explain and am moved to keep going. I call the brother that the young man is staying with as a character reference. He candidly and honestly reports, “He’s unreliable, he’s sleeps all day, he’s still drinking and he’s been lying about it.”

The Holy Spirit was like, “I’ll take him.”

I hired the young man that day and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

God provided and we worked together for years. We did more than work beside each other every day, we shared life. We laughed together -a lot. We studied the Bible together. We battled our demons together. We prayed together. We shared our dreams together. What was dear to him became dear to me and the other way around. To this day I can still feel his intense love for his family, especially his son. From that day it became my heart, to the extent that they will allow me, to treat his family as my own. He did the same for me.

Anyone that knows Melissa and I can attest that we are very particular about who keeps our children. They are a treasure to us. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we’d be reluctant to entrust even the Secret Service with our kids. As a result, we didn’t get out much. Observing that, this young man insisted that Melissa and I have a night to ourselves and volunteered to keep our boys. Having watched this young man grow over the years, we humbly accepted without hesitation or concern.

By the grace of God, the young man that had an addiction was transformed into one of the most diligent, devoted and trustworthy people I’ve ever known. He was among those that I can count on one hand that Melissa and I considered leaving our estate to and making responsible for the care of our children should we both die unexpectedly. He is a true and dearly beloved brother.

He would often gush about the difference I made in his life, not realizing the heavenly shift that God used him to make in mine. I have been continually praying to God to teach me to love the way He loves. God answered my prayer and taught me to love by sending me someone to love .

Moreover, he showed me other believers who did not just love in word but also in deed. They truly behaved as people of one heart and one soul, who had all things in common (Acts 2:44, 4:32). They opened their homes, they opened their hearts and treated this young man’s burdens as if they were their own. Their labor yielded a harvest of new life not only in him, but also in me, revealing to me the authentic Church in power and glory. Thank you Brother Marty for this life changing introduction. I’m eternally grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #11 – Dr. Joe Bumgardner

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Joe Bumgardner
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Joe Bumgardner

In Week 11 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Dr. Joe Bumgardner

I love old people.

I considered intently whether to say that. I try to be purposeful and measured in every word I say. “Old people” carries a pejorative connotation while “young people” does not. And, for this reason I chose to use it. We need to take back the words “old” or “elder” and restore them to their rightful honor. There are treasures that can only be gained with age, experience and mindful contemplation over time. When we dishonor and dismiss our elders we’re poorer for it, throwing away wonderful gifts of unimaginable wealth.

Dr. Bumgardner is in his “ninth decade of life”, as he puts it, and in that time he has amassed a great wealth of wisdom to share.

My boys and I have never been hunting. It was something new I thought we could do together and more than the hunting, I was interested in the lessons about life that we could glean from it. I was also interested in the idea of developing a useful skill and was attracted to the efficiency of the bow. So, I approached Dr. Bumgardner because I knew he as an avid outdoorsman and a skilled bowhunter.

My proposition was to hire him as a coach and pay him to tutor us, but he would have none of it. At the moment that I approached him, Dr. Bumgardner set things in motion to help us along on our journey of bowhunting. Just an hour or so after we met, I received an email where he had charted out next steps for us to consider. He had already contacted people and made arrangements for us to get measurements for our “draw length”. Unlike going to the gun range, you can’t just rent a bow and fire off a few to get a feel for it. A bow is largely customized to its owner. I didn’t know that at the time and wasn’t prepared for how expensive it was. But, Dr. Bumgardner wouldn’t let that stop us. He again made calls and managed to borrow a bow from another hunter with a draw length similar to us so that we could, at least, get an introduction. He then invited us out to his home to give us our first lesson.

It was like we had hit a vein. Dr. Bumgardner was so full of wisdom and experience that he literally erupted. In one hour with him, I gained more knowledge and insight than if I had read a whole book. He shared safety considerations, mechanics of the bow, physics of the arrow and its release, the anatomy of game (deer, turkey), etc. etc. I left with an entirely new lexicon; limbs, cams, biscuit, cock / hen fletch, peep sight, release aid… I could spend several hours deconstructing what he taught in one. It was like drinking from a fire hose.

Dr. Bumgardner is an old man whose age and experience affords him the ability to offer more than I could ever hope to consume. I am grateful that he is eager to share his wisdom and am humbled that he is willing to pour that into us. I am committed to soaking up everything I can and paying it forward so that not a single precious drop is wasted. Dr. Bumgardner I rise before you and honor you. I’m grateful. #52WoG

P.S. Special thanks to Eddie Myles for allowing us to borrow his bow. I’m grateful to be surrounded by such kind, giving and compassionate people.

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #10 – Legacy Of Willie Lee Harris

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For The Legacy Of Willie Lee Harris

In Week 10 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for the legacy of Willie Lee Harris.

His cancer is terminal.

We can see his body weakening. On this particular day, Mr. Harris seems to be doing remarkably well. Where he had been confined mostly to a chair or his bed, he’s walking around, talking, doing stuff. The reason for all this activity is that he wants to make the house more secure. His sons and grandsons are there to help him check locks and install security bars on the windows.

This is the last thing Mr. Harris did before leaving this life: making his wife secure. Mr. Harris knew he was dying, but in the face of death he thought about protecting his wife.

What an awesome legacy. This is the stuff my extended family, my wife and consequently my children are made of. I’m grateful. #52WoG

P.S. This is the day the family traditionally celebrates the birthday of Mr. Willie Lee Harris, even though we learned some years ago, that according to his birth certificate, he was born on March 11. That’s a window into a whole other discussion about the black experience, government and historicity, but suffice it to say we’re glad this man was born and we honor his legacy, especially today.

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #9 – Encouragement From A Sister

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Encouragement From A Sister

In Week 9 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for encouragement from a dear sister, Carrie McCarty Copeland.

For a while, I’ve been sad and discouraged –suffering silently. And, then my wife shares a message that was just sent to her by Carrie Copeland,

“Good morning, I’m praying for you and Paul today!! Whatever you two are facing God is in the midst…”

What extraordinary timing and how remarkably on the mark! I know I am not alone but it made all the difference for someone to take the time to make the truth real. Thank you sister, Carrie. This is church. I’m grateful #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #8 – Jarvis Brinson

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Jarvis Brinson
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Jarvis Brinson

In Week 8 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Jarvis S. Brinson.

I am who I am by the grace of God. As I reflect on my journey, I often find that grace beautifully expressed through the life and influences of others. Jarvis Brinson was such an influence in my life.

When I think of Jarvis, the simple, yet apt description of him would be: he’s just a good guy. Jarvis is and has always been a kind, wholesome, trustworthy human being.

Jarvis was one of my best friends through high school and one of my earliest friends, if not the first friend I had outside of family. Our friendship dates back to elementary school. We grew up in the same neighborhood and his house would be my most frequent destination after school, on weekends and during summers. I remember the grand, elaborate plans we would make for tree houses and forts we were going to build. We spent most of our time planning and discussing our plans. Planning is probably what characterized our friendship the most. We would often walk to and from G.N. Smith Elementary School together, discussing our plans.

One of the things I cherish most about our friendship is that it wasn’t all talk. A product of our mini-mastermind sessions was our both applying to and attending my beloved alma mater, Bailey Magnet High School, an institution that remains unmatched in its impact on my life. I largely have Jarvis to thank for that. He would hold me accountable to act on my plans and I would watch in awe as he’d execute on his.

I’ll never forget Jarvis getting a job over the summer of our 8th and 9th grade years and by 10th grade, this dude had a whole truck. And, it was not just a truck, it was a new truck! I was so impressed and proud of him. He’d sometimes give me a ride to school and would drive with the conscientiousness of a senior citizen. He was meticulous in his observance of road safety and never once did anything to show off. The dude was a freak -a 50 year old in a 15 year old’s body. Well, maybe not a 15 year old’s body. Jarvis always looked mature for his age. Dude had a full mustache and goatee as early as the 6th grade, while I, meanwhile, was trying to fill in the peach fuzz above my lip with my mom’s mascara! About the only give-away that he was a teenager was the music he listened to. I remember the satisfying “thunk” the radio would make when he would insert a tape into it. It was Jarvis that introduced me to genres of music beyond the walled garden of “Kixie 107”. As a preacher’s kid, it was the only secular radio station that was not contraband in my house. His music collection was the first time I encountered “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics”. While Jarvis was buttoned up (or so appeared), his music was not. If there was any rebellious streak to be found, it was in his playlist.

Notwithstanding, Jarvis was the model of maturity. He was rock solid. He was a committed friend that followed through on his promises. He maintained his relationships purposefully and with intentionality. When we graduated and went off to differing colleges, Jarvis would write, yes write, full three and four page letters to stay in touch. In the beginning I would call and once or twice I would visit him but I came to a point in my life where I lost my way. But, Jarvis kept writing even when I did not respond. It is one of my sincerest regrets. I’d like to take this moment to say, “I’m sorry, Jarvis.” I’m sorry for taking your kindness and friendship for granted. I was fortunate to have ever been in your orbit. I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate the value of that. I humbly ask that you forgive me.

Yet, even with all the years that have transpired and my having taking the gift of his friendship for granted, I know I can again have a place with him, not because I assume his forgiveness or presume his graciousness, but because that’s just who Jarvis is.

I told a friend a few weeks ago who’s bearing with a wayward family member this: “When you’re dealing with someone who is lost, it is important that you do not move because the lost can only find their way when they have a fixed point to refer to”. Jarvis Brinson was such a point for me. I’m grateful. #52WoG

*Pictured from left to right, Jarvis Brinson, Paul Luckett and Christopher Johnson for our junior prom.

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #6 – Lessons From My Father About Work

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Lessons From My Father About Work

In 6 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for lessons from my father about work.

No one in the world works harder than my father, Rev. Paul Luckett. No one.

I remember when my Dad was a student in seminary, he was a full time student, paying his way through school as a custodian for our apartment building in Atlanta, Georgia, pastoring two churches and driving between school in Atlanta and the churches in Jackson, Mississippi every weekend.

I remember spending countless summer days with him and my little brother Nehemiah Luckett, cutting yards, painting houses, buffing floors, hanging shingles, etc.

My youngest brother James recently told my Dad, “Whew, you’re a hard worker, Daddy. That’s a good thing to be. But, don’t you think it’s time to go home now?”

With my Dad having such a strong work ethic, naturally he had lessons to pass along to us. Here are a few I hope to pay forward:

A want is something you work for. A gift is something you’re given.

No one is obliged to give you what you want –or anything for that matter.

If there’s something you want that you feel you’re owed, it’s no longer a gift but wages.

Wages require that you be hired. To be hired requires at least an informal contract that’s been expressed for work in exchange for wages.

Are you feeling like someone owes you something? Well, were you hired for the task that you think you’re owed for?

No one owes you for work you weren’t hired to do.

And, no one owes you for being a ‘good’ person. If your goodness is contingent on being compensated for it, you’re not a good person but a faker-for-hire.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. If anyone gives you anything, be grateful -you don’t get to place demands on a gift. If you have demands, if you want something, work as hard as it takes to get it. Wants aren’t owed but earned.

This is treasured wisdom from my father that is still ministering to me today. Thanks, Dad. I’m grateful. #52WoG

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #7 – Dr. Athelia and Placid Eze

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Athelia and Dr. Placid Eze
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Athelia and Dr. Placid Eze
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com Thankful For Dr. Athelia and Dr. Placid Eze

In 7 of 52 Weeks of Gratefulness, I give thanks for Dr. Athelia and Dr. Placid Eze.

I was in my MR COMPUTER MAN service truck on Highway 82, headed back from a service appointment in Columbus to Starkville, when a tan 2001 Lincoln Town Car flew past me. As the car advanced ahead of me, the driver glanced over in my direction and suddenly the car’s speed dropped precipitously to match my own, our vehicles side-by-side on the highway. The driver locked her eyes on me, nodding her head, then pointing in my direction and afterward sped off. I was perplexed and slightly unnerved by the encounter, but little did I know that moment would mark the beginning of one of the most meaningful relationships of my career. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Dr. Athelia Eze to provide IT services for her practice and that began a 20 year relationship with her and Dr. Placid Eze of Eze Family Medical Clinic.

I’ll jump straight to the punch line and say that Dr. Athelia Eze and Dr. Placid Eze are unsung heroes in the black community, not only here in Starkville or in North Mississippi, but arguably throughout the southeast, having had clinics and pharmacies in (including, but not limited to) Starkville, Columbus and East Point, Georgia. No one has done more in this area to identify, recruit, educate and produce black medical professionals than Dr. Athelia and Dr. Placid Eze. They gave minorities a chance and an onramp into medical professions when no one else would.

This is not something I’ve heard about, the Eze’s themselves don’t even talk about it, it’s something I’ve watched them do quietly and purposefully. I would add that it’s also something they’ve paid dearly to do. I’ve watched them take people with little to no background in a professional setting, with next to zero experience in the medical field and in many cases pay to have them educated, personally study with them for exams and certifications to help them along the path to attain a meaningful and gainful career. It’s an absolute slough of trial and error, frustration, candidates quitting, spectacular failure, betrayal, disappointment, considerable expense, but always love.

Love characterizes their practice. You can hear it in Dr. Placid’s laugh and bedside manner with his patients. You can see it as Dr. Athelia would greet her customer’s children by name, knowing the candy each child preferred. It is a safe place, sadly still needed in 2022, where blacks can come and not get strange looks or funny treatment for the kind of insurance they have, for not having insurance, or for not looking like a ‘good client’ –whatever that means. Sure, as an I.T. professional I’m there installing network equipment or servicing computers but I’m always paying attention. And, when people came through those clinic doors or pulled up to the pharmacy drive-thru window they were treated as though they belonged there, as though they were wanted there. For better or worse the Eze’s focused on care first and would often work with their patients to figure out how to take care of the cost later.

Care for your people even when it costs you is the blackest thing I’ve ever seen.

Dr. Placid is from Nigeria and Dr. Athelia is from the coast, so they didn’t even know many of the people here that they would come to make investments in. As graduates of Morehouse College and Mercer University, respectively, as well as being members of the black greek letter organizations Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Kappa Alpha, they were steeped in an African-American culture that prioritized collective progress and embraced education not for education’s sake but as a tool for empowerment. So, in all that they do and everywhere they go, they’re always looking out for black people they can invest in -even if it costs them –because they love them. Again, the blackest thing I’ve ever seen.

I can hear the question, “Wait. Isn’t this just reverse racism?”

No.

Dr. Placid and Dr. Athelia love all people. In watching them serve, hire and work with people of all backgrounds, that would be clear to anyone.

They simply made it a point to focus love where love was lacking. You should too.

This is black history. I am inspired by the Eze’s commitment not only to offer compassionate medical care for their community but also to increase its economic capacity. While it doesn’t always look great for the bottom line, it always yields a profit because love never fails. Their love has born fruit in my life that I’m eager to bear in the lives of others. I’m grateful. #52WoG #BlackHistory

It’s All Good

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated with a person or a situation, only to find that it was the very means God was using to meet my need or to do a work in someone’s life.

It reminds me that we have a loving Father who is always doing a good work (John 5:17) and there is nothing that happens in my life that He can’t use for good when I trust Him with it (Romans 8:28).

By faith I have this confidence, that some way, some how, it’s all good when I live for Him (2 Timothy 1:12).

Standing on this truth is how we can do 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, [and] in everything give thanks.”

The verse follows, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

My attitude should reflect that.

I repent. #perfectourlove

52 Weeks of Gratefulness #4 – Dr. George Bennett

Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com 52 Weeks of Gratefulness #4 – Dr. George Bennett #52WoG
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com 52 Weeks of Gratefulness #4 – Dr. George Bennett #52WoG
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com 52 Weeks of Gratefulness #4 – Dr. George Bennett #52WoG
Paul Luckett | Brainflurry.com 52 Weeks of Gratefulness #4 – Dr. George Bennett #52WoG

The flight instructor stands at the hanger, wearing old-school Chucks, beige cargo pants, a beige safari style shirt and a beige bucket sun hat. He’s scribbling into a small notebook using one of the many pens lining his left breast pocket. He occasionally looks up, peering over black-rimmed 1960’s style glasses to coach aspiring pilots through the nuances of a pre-flight check, expertly interspersing amazing tales of aviation history, daring feats of flight and near death encounters he’s personally experienced during his long and storied career. He smiles with each recounting and you can see the joy in his eyes from having spent his life doing what he loved.

Dr. Bennett is in his 80’s now, still crawling under a sailplane to check for the signs of wear and material fatigue that a novice might miss. He’s literally a legend but you’d never know because he’s utterly unassuming and completely approachable. He spends his weekends, oftentimes in grueling heat, climbing into a cockpit to pass on his vast experience to anyone wise enough to learn from it.

The flight instruction is being offered by the MSU Soaring Club provided through Mississippi State University. We’ve brought our son Roman to one of their meetings after a chance and kind introduction to the club by Jamie Jones. We’re hoping that Roman can join the club and start taking flying lessons. But as we look around, there is no one else near his age or his size. At eleven years old, the parachute nearly swallows him and probably weighs as much he does!

Being the expert that he is, Dr. Bennett makes mention of the minimum weight needed to achieve the proper distribution in the glider. At this point, Dr. Bennett could have very legitimately said Roman was not quite old enough to participate and that would have been that. But, Dr. Bennett looks at Roman and asks him directly, “You want to fly, don’t you? How much do you weigh?” After receiving Roman’s weight, Dr. Bennett makes a calculation and proceeds to use lead bags (those that typically holds down a wing of the gliders while it is stowed in the hanger) to make up for the lack in weight. But then, we’re faced with a new problem -Roman’s legs aren’t long enough to reach the pedals. Again, Dr. Bennett makes every accommodation so Roman can fly, telling him, “For now, we’ll focus on teaching you the stick controls and I’ll take care of everything else.”

From that moment almost five years ago, Dr. George, as we affectionally refer to him now, has not stopped pouring into Roman. He uses every break, every free moment between flights to share another lesson to prepare Roman for the next stage of his development as an aviator. It is quite something to behold how this man’s love of flying extends beyond the subject to his students. And, he does it all so effortlessly.

I’m not interested in aviation beyond supporting our son’s interest in it, but the apparent love around what Dr. George does has a draw to it. It makes me want to be around him, regardless of what he’s talking about. He’s teaching my son to fly but his example is teaching me a valuable lesson too. I’m grateful. #52WoG