As far back as I can remember, my small community has had two central meeting places: Bethel (Missionar) Baptist Church and Fork Run Bridge.
If one was African-American and attended church in the community, Bethel was it. Respected as the cement of the community, for many of us, our future was shaped within the pews and on the grounds of Bethel. I still hold very precious and enduring memories of my home church.
The central meeting stop behind Bethel was Fork Run Bridge where the community-at-large met throughout the week. Fork Run had a way of tying the whole community together. Where my family lived, the bridge connected us to the rest of our relatives and to Bethel. Fork Run Bridge literally bridged communities.
Whether churchgoers or non-churchgoers, people gathered on the bridge sitting on makeshift chairs or lard cans or just leaning on the rails while the line of their fishing pole bobbled in the water with a worm-stuffed hook awaiting a robin or trout (!) to come and nibble. The catch could make a fine supper. While fishing was going on, there was talk of the community…who was feeble, ailing, or on the mend; when the gardens would be ready for picking; and generallywhat was going on around and about. We children had our own fun times on the bridge.
During the fifties, my brother, Fred, and his best friend Lewis started sitting on the bridge nearly every day from the time they got out of school until dusk. They soon became the main fixtures of Fork Run. Lewis’ sisters and I still wonder what they were talking about, most likely cars and girls. As Bethel was a central part of our lives, Fork Run Bridge also played an important role.
Then June 2009, a neighbor who had worked with the highway department, came to my house to tell me the state was planning to destroy Fork Run Bridge and not replace it. In fact the county commissioners were to meet that night. With only a short time to prepare, I went to the meeting. (Click on articles below to read more)
Although I was not on the agenda, the chairman of the board allowed me to speak. After the meeting, I contacted my brother and informed him of the situation. What happened as a result of his intervention and his tenacity, knowledge of government, and favor was nothing short of miraculous. Because he persevered even in the face of strong opposition from the state and overwhelming DOT determination that the bridge would not be rebuilt…today the new bridge spans Fork Run tying the community back together again.
Since his death, I have thought about the significance of the valor my brother showed and decided to share several lessons learned.
The first is simple but powerful. No matter how impossible a situation may seem, there can be victory for the believer! Faith does move mountains!!! Trust, believe, see!
The second lesson deals with the act of building bridges. Fork Run Bridge spanned a waterway that tied two communities together. Not only did it tie two physical communities but also two racial, churchgoing and non-churchgoing, old and young. Bridges allow us to cross where chasms separate.
Indeed, it’s often better to build bridges than destroy them. What kind of bridges are best to build…those that take us from bitterness to forgiveness, from hatred to love, doubt to faith, despair to hope, division to reconciliation, selfish rejection to loving acceptance, negativity to opportunity, and from a sense of defeat to victory!
My brother’s life has left me with this powerful message: build bridges and unite rather than drown in a river of division. We can do it, for we met the Bridge Builder at a central location called Bethel.
(Note: Less than a week before his death, my brother preached from Isaiah 58,one of his favorite Old Testament scriptures. It is altogether fitting that this Scripture should be the source of the Biblical Affirmation)
Biblical Affirmation: And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in. Isaiah 58:12