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Brandy Baker/The Detroit News

No more teachers' dirty looks

Lifestyle/Technology | Volunteer chaplain corps brings peace to Detroit schools

Issue: "Two-ring circus," Sept. 6, 2008

For 44 years John H. Jordan ran Jordan Enterprises, a barber shop/beauty parlor/beauty supply/restaurant one block from Detroit's Northwestern High School. He cut hair for Motown greats like Barry Gordy and Aretha Franklin. His business survived the 1967 riots.

Now 82 years old and for the past 19 years the pastor of "Let Them Come Ministry," a church he founded in Detroit, Jordan is embarked on a new mission in his old neighborhood: bringing peace into the Detroit Public Schools.

It started last year when the school system decided to close some schools and bus kids from one side of Detroit into schools on the other side. He remembers: "Society said it wouldn't work . . . it would be a bloodbath. . . . We asked, 'What could we do as ministers to curb the tension that children would bring in from other schools?'"

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Several ministers approached the chief of the school district's Department of Public Safety about the possibility of a volunteer chaplains corps. He agreed and offered training. On the first day of school last year, ministers were at five high schools (those with police mini-stations on campus), greeting students as they entered. Jordan was at Northwestern: "We shook as many hands as we could. You would shake one and miss five."

Local TV crews were also present, ready to film what was expected to be a violent first day of classes. "They knew there were going to be fights," Jordan said. "They expected there to be a whole lot to talk about on the six o'clock news." But students who were defiant toward police officers behaved differently toward the clergymen: "Something in them had respect." When the fights didn't happen, the camera crews went home empty-handed.

Although the chaplains work alongside the police and are a part of the Department of Public Safety, their role is different. They initiate conversations and try to discern what's going on in the lives of the kids they see over and over again. Jordan said one student had witnessed his mother killing his brother: The student "was untouchable until I was able to talk with him."

How do you get a kid to reveal something like that? Jordan's answer is prayer. "People say you can't pray in school. . . . We can constantly pray within. You can pick up what that person really needs. You can direct the conversation in such a way they relax and reveal stuff." Northwestern provided the chaplains a small office, which made it easier for -students, police, teachers, and counselors to come and talk.

Jordan described a police officer with a difficult family situation. He still had to be a tough guy on the job. "Officers, being officers, can't let people know they have a soft spot," Jordan said. But inside the small chaplain's office at Northwestern, the officer cried and allowed Jordan to pray for him.

Last year, Jordan was at Northwestern three or four days a week, for three hours at a time, long enough to get to know all the officers and the kids he calls repeaters, the ones-sometimes 15 or 20 at a time-in the police mini-station regularly for reasons ranging from gambling to fighting or skipping school. Jordan also gets to know the adults (often grand-parents) in charge of the repeaters. He described a typical scene: The grand-parent arrives at school on a walker or with a breathing machine. The kid yells, "I hate him," or "I don't like her."

Jordan sighed, "It's like they have a demon on the inside." Then he described how the repeaters grew up: "Some young people never heard anyone say, 'I love you.' They never had a person run their fingers through their hair and say how proud they are of them. . . . They're walking like a time bomb." The chaplains, often the first ones to show love or respect or understanding to these -students, have the opportunity to begin creating "a whole new outlook on life."

Jordan wants to expand to all the high schools and some of the middle schools. Ten chaplains are not enough: "It's too much for us," especially since the -chaplains have churches to run and congregations to care for. He is asking the public safety chief to approve and train at least 15 more: "I've got plenty of clergy standing by . . . but I can only do what the chief allows me to do."

Jordan knows why so many other clergy want to be involved. "You open some blinded eyes and open some deaf ears. When you do that, that's joy. . . . That's what God has done and what God has blessed us to be part of."

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Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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