I arrived to Washington & Lee in 1994 as an adolescent, sheltered by the faith traditions of my Negro Jamaican-American urban heritage and Caucasian blue collar New York suburbs. I sought to expand my worldview by being away from home at one of the premier institutions of learning, while, at the same time, pursuing purpose and shaping my identity.
While studying and discussing Daniel Moynihan’s “Culture of Poverty” in Washington and Lee Poverty 101 class, I asked myself “Why is it that since desegregation, the urban community is in such decline?” From the readings of W.E.B. DuBois’ “Souls of Black Folk” and “Culture of Poverty,” I summarized that during segregation in the USA, the well-to-do Negro and not so well-to-do Negro lived within the same community. The Negro church was the paramount institution where the “faith of our fathers” harbored souls in safety, belonging, culture and inspiration, which helped galvanize the movement for social equality.
After desegregation, many well-to-do Negroes moved to more affluent suburbs, as my family did. This migration, in conjunction with the legacy of systematic racism and misguided welfare programs that incentivized non-traditional family structure, destabilized the Negro community. What remained in the Negro community is what we often see today.
Furthermore, from studying Martin Luther King, Jr. in a theology and ethics course taught by my poverty teacher, I learned that I, as a beneficiary of the civil rights movement was granted access to the middle class in large measure due to Reverend King’s leadership. Years later, I purposed to myself a civic duty to give my time, talents, and resources within institutions that address the issues of poverty.
Shortly after studying Poverty 101, a travel abroad seminar to Southern Africa revealed to me that throughout the pan-Africa community a crisis of identity churned within peoples who, like me, struggled to reconcile an innate yearning for identity with a waning sense of identity and heritage while thriving in a Western world order. I returned to W&L amidst an inner bleakness of purposelessness and role confusion.
Nevertheless, while working as an analyst after graduating from Washington and Lee University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology and Anthropology, I mentored youth in foster care. I thought to myself, “If I can make it in the corporate jungle, then maybe I can show them how, too.” I had become a brother’s keeper.
Years later I have drawn strength from communal spiritual heritage of my father in pursuit of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. Reborn in the sunshine state, I reconnected with the faith tradition of my family while adapting my once shy personality to become an engaging sales producer. As isolation gave way to intimacy, I married my wife, Sophia, blended our family and complementary values. The communal theme of faith organizations became a ready conduit for spiritual renewal, community bonds, and micro, yet enduring, social change.
Spirited from faith, guided by the star of Poverty studies, my family and I traveled deeper into the heart of urban Tampa in helping a fledgling faith organization break the cycle of poverty. To this cause I have imparted my knowledge of financial services in order to advocate for financial literacy.
On New Years’ Day, I resolved to reconnect with family, friends, and institutions like Washington & Lee University, an institution that has granted me much, and with the Shepherd Consortium on Poverty, for which much is required. In this season of regeneration, I remember Martin Luther King. Jr., say that the arc of the universe is long and it bends towards justice. Regeneration continues.
Andrew Alexander Heron grew up in the home of Christian, blue collar, Caribbean immigrants in Northern New Jersey. He earn a BA in Sociology and Anthropology at Washington and Lee University in 1998. Andrew subsequently worked as an acquisitions analyst in New Jersey before moving to Tampa, Florida, to work in sales, and then, during the financial crisis, his insurance practice became involved with hundreds of clients to help protect their assets. While continuing his work in financial services and investing in start-up businesses, Andrew is a spouse and father of three and serving on the boards of non-profits that serve the community, including the Tabernacle of Hope.