The miseducation of Jerald Degraffenreid

The miseducation of Jerald Degraffenreid September 28, 2008
Jerald now-a-days... T.D. Jakes look a like. ;)
Jerald now-a-days... T.D. Jakes look a like. 😉


Thanks to the wide world of facebook, last week I connected with Jerald Degraffenreid.  Who?

Jerald Degraffenreid.  The only black person I know with a last name longer than 12 letters.  Also, my nearest & dearest friend growing up in the 17,000th block of Braile in Detroit, MI.

Our houses were literally no more than 4 ft. apart and in our prepubescent years we could both go upstairs and pass things to one another from the second floor.  We started playing together when I was 4 and he was 1.  We didn’t grow apart until I was 15 and he was 12 and of course, I was “like way too cool to like hang out with like, a 12 year old.”  Thankfully, we started hanging again when we both grew up.  In the words of Forrest Gump, “Jerald was my best good friend,” and was always the little bro I never had.

But then I hit 19.  I started following Jesus, I got crazy involved with InterVarsity and lo and behold I started actually studying.  I worked a lot, I got married, moved to Kalamazoo, had-a-baby-it’s-a-boy, yada, yada, yada… now I’m 31 and Jerald and I had lost touch for 12 long years.

We connected on facebook and since he lives in Arizona somewhere, we made a phone appointment last week.  Here’s what knocked my socks off: he didn’t know.

Jerald didn’t know I had been sexually abused by my father for 10 years.  A story I’ve been sharing in youth groups, conferences, and InterVarsity chapters all over the state of MI and churches for the last 12 years.  I’ve so much assumed that everyone knows, I’d forgotten there was this whole group of people who experienced me pre-counseling…pre-public speaker…pre-healing.  (Scary).

just a "normal" kid in the 3rd grade
just a "normal" kid in the 3rd grade. Jerald didn’t know that my white brother, David hated (& still dis-likes) black people.

Jerald didn’t know my home life was turbulent, poor and ridiculously unstable.

How could he not know?

We shared all of life together as kids.  Was Jerald aloof?  I thought about that for at least 2 hours after we talked.  And then it hit me.

No, Jerald was not aloof.  While ignorance is bliss, the truth is I was a pretty normal kid.  I carried on like life was ho-hum-hum.  I didn’t know any differently and so I believed that sexual abuse and living with racism, hunger, fear, poverty and instability was sort of, well, normal. What Jerald got, was a normal girl.

In fact, I didn’t “act out,” until I was 16 and even then I was considered tame considering all the trouble in the world there was to be had.  By the time my life caved in around me in a traumatic and overwhelmingly difficult time I was 20 years old -and thank God- in the midst of a loving community who helped me not to hang myself in the bathroom, with the shower rod and a little rope.

Talking to Jerald made me realize something:  I realized I have an intense respect for the power of the human spirit.  I believe that God made us with implausible strength & resiliency.  For a gajillion years human beings have treated one other in the most disgustingly evil ways, yet we just keep on truckin’.  It’s amazing to me.

My “Black Experience in America” class has me crying myself to sleep many nights and wondering what God wants me to possibly learn –aside from all the excruciatingly painful details- and I think after talking to Jerald Degraffenreid, I got at least one answer…

God made us to be able to handle pain.  Not just sexual abuse, or dehumanization, but torture and rape and incest.  We don’t die from heart-ache, or heart break or unrequited love.  We are made to handle pain.  A simple, yet astute observation. 🙂

While this may not strike you as a profoundly comforting truth, it does for me.

I need whatever hope I can beg, borrow or steal to help me negotiate the horrors of slavery, Jew genocide or the modern day catastrophe’s of Darfur and sex slavery and… you name it… and a whole lotta grief that goes unreported.  Those people have survived.  We all survive.

I had a whole portion of my life where in the midst of trauma, I was normal…

And Jerald Degraffenreid didn’t know.

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  • I will never forget my friend Aileen, at a Take Back The Night event, saying to me that “I thought it was normal to wake up on Saturday mornings, watch cartoons and have your father molest you”. Or on a much more benign note, the unspoken pact of silence that my friend and I took after the neighborhood perv lightly brushed his hand across our butts in the supermarket. Or the words of a therapist in an abuse group I participated in: “Kids *think* they tell”.