Seeking Models of Leadership

The venerable Right Rev. A.F. Nightengale,
Archdeacon of St. Paul Episcopal Church in Santana

That I should have had some idea of the qualities that would dignify a person should have been something fixed in my mind by now. Since there were no physical areas in the city where I could discover “modeling tools” for human beings such as libraries, concert halls, or any other cultural emporiums, I’d reached an age where that characteristic of many adolescents-
cynicism– had started rearing its ugly head.

I had been attending Saint Paul Episcopal Church with my Aunt Bernice, the perpetual maid, who sang in the choir. Sunday after Sunday I would obediently follow her and so get as involved in the Sunday school as she wished me to be. The fact was that I was looking for leadership there at church and the only one, it seemed, that I could respect was old Reverend A.F. Nightengale.

I would sit and watch that Black man, the only priest of color I had ever known in all of the Republic of Panama, deliver his sermons every Sunday. I would contemplate the old Reverend, by now the Archdeacon Nightengale, with keen intensity looking for those signs of character that I hoped to detect in some of the Black Westindian men I knew.

In addition, I sought out the ear of every Westindian adult I encountered, men as well as women during those years, to seek out and find those qualities that in the future would be of great use to me in the making of the “real man” I hoped to become.

I was not exactly looking forward to being in school, almost always alone in a room full of alienated human beings where the teachers occasionally tried to maintain some kind of order. In class I would inevitably fall into a depression just looking around with nothing much to do.

We, as students, were caught up in such generational changes as seemed inevitable at the time, and for me, who was eternally on a self inspection kick, I began identifying myself as a Spanish Speaking Black man. This attitude would eventually cause some inevitable conflicts between my contemporaries and me. It was all about ideas and assumptions nothing that we were really taught about in school or at home.

For me who had grown up following some of the same paths of my predecessors, it was now time, I decided, to start distancing himself from my aunts and uncles- “Make my own life”- I concluded as I was still pretty ignorant of the political ideas of the time. I had been cultivating cultural ideas quite foreign to my people who still remained steeped in the notion of just living for the moment.

They were still in the throes of fear and intimidation from various sources, fear, primarily, of deportation to some foreign land they had only heard of. My aunts and uncles, the first generation, considered themselves Panamanians, citizens of a country that sought to cast them off.

Nevertheless, by the year of 1950 I would be caught up in living, whether I was conscious of it or not, the lifestyle my predecessors had lived since they had knowledge of themselves.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Seeking Models of Leadership

  1. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    Did you ever feel that you were stuck in a between a rock and a hard place with all role models be they white or black in that they all seemed so opposite of what a young man should be learning from?


  2. Kyle,

    Sure did- many times!

    And whenever you feel vulnerable, here come even relatives- people close to you- to beat you up and accuse you of being rude because you refuse to be abused. Thank God for all the child protective measures in place these days. We needed them when I was a kid.