My life in the pews, black and white
Covering the 50th anniversary of the Atlanta meeting on race…
At a graveside service for Freddie Gray, Hamil Harris offers a prayer.I was in Baltimore for The Washington Post, helping to cover the funeral of the 25-year-old black man who died after suffering a spinal cord injury in police custody, sparking racial tension across the city.
Women and children stood around the casket, and suddenly someone asked if there were a minister present to say a prayer for the burial.
I glanced at the reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Then I looked at the grieving family.
I offered the prayer.
‘On the job, I’ve never sought to promote my own faith. But I don’t run away from it.’
Moments later, I was rushing to a mall where young people had started throwing rocks at police. Soon, the city erupted in flames. I worked past midnight, covering the riots with my colleagues.
Police in Baltimore patrol an area where rioters burned vehicles during protests following the funeral for Freddie Gray. (PHOTO BY HAMIL R. HARRIS)
On the job, I’ve never sought to promote my own faith. But I don’t run away from it.
My journey began on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee, where I was baptized Dec. 3, 1978. I was active in campus ministry. I also was a walk-on for the Seminoles football team. In 1979, when we finished the regular season 11-0, I held a dummy, mostly, during the varsity practices. But during junior varsity games I got the ball. I blocked a point during the first game and logged a sack against Auburn. Related: The broken soul of Baltimore For me, college was about more than football — and academics. There, in Broward Hall with my roommate Jeff Hubright, I learned to really pray. I began to understand that all things are possible if you believe.
I put that faith into practice a few years later, in 1984, when I packed my belongings into an old Chrysler Cordoba and moved to our nation’s capital. I landed a job working in a hospital at night and wrote during the day. Two years later, faith got me a freelance assignment that turned into a career of more than 20 years.
Whether I was covering natural disasters or sneaking into the 19th Street Baptist Church to witness President Barack Obama and his family attending church, my time with the Post has truly been a blessing.
Hamil R. Harris | Inside StoryOn many occasions, it was as if the Lord himself were my editor, guiding me where he wanted me to be. Many times, I needed my faith to do my job.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I had just dropped my kids off at school when two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York. I was on Pennsylvania Avenue, headed toward the White House, when another plane crashed into the Pentagon, less than three miles away. I watched the news in a TV reporter’s truck.
I talked to the husband of Angelene Carter, a 51-year-old accountant for the U.S. Army. She went to work at the Pentagon that morning and never came home. She had a passion for family, Orlando vacations and church work.
A few days later, after knocking on more doors than I could count in search of news, I walked into Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, Md. I just needed a message of hope. James Mook, one of the professors, talked about the hymn “I Must Tell Jesus,” written by one of his relatives.
I must tell Jesus all of my trials, I cannot bear these burdens alone; In my distress He kindly will help me, He ever loves and cares for His own.
Tears rolled down my face. I was so thankful to be able to share my burdens.
Then I wiped my tears and went back to work.
‘Many times, I needed my faith to do my job.’
A few years later, I earned a master’s from that seminary — and, eventually, a master’s in Christian ministry from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn.
In my time with the Post, I’ve seen evidence of the divine words I’ve studied at these schools. One instance stands out in my mind. In 2002, after one of the most powerful storms in Maryland’s history ripped through Charles County, I wrote this story:
The angry tornado was chewing up buildings and spitting out debris on La Grange Avenue, and Sam Taylor had only seconds to huddle his wife and two children on the floor of their La Plata home where they began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
“We wrapped our arms around the kids and each other,” said Taylor, who remembers praying: “‘Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.’ I didn’t even get through the Lord’s Prayer — and it was over.”
This story moved me like no other. I know God redirected that tornado to answer that family’s prayer.
HAMIL R. HARRIS preaches for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland. This month he concludes his career with The Washington Post. He will continue to freelance and teach at Morgan State University in Baltimore.
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