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Resurrected Beyond Belief

I was born on December 9th, 1939, of West Indian descent, in Lawrenceville, Virginia. My biological mother, Phyllis Macklin, was only 14 years old at my birth. She was unprepared for the responsibilities of motherhood and decided to put me up for adoption. My adoptive mother, Lee Hester Peterson Walker, was a wealthy woman with a farm in the Virginia countryside. She was the only parent I ever knew. Lee meant the world to me. I loved her with all my heart and remember with great fondness our days together, mother and son, on the farm in Virginia.

I was devastated when, at 9 years of age, Lee died. I had lost the only parent I ever knew. What followed were 9 years of complete turbulence. I was bounced from one foster home to another, suddenly hurled into a world of complete instability, with temporary families offering temporary love.

By 13, I needed to fend for myself. Singing had always been a passion of mine, ever since I had been a member of the Oak Grove Baptist Church in Cochran, Virginia at the age of 5. Music was always the way for me to express myself and to find my center. So I joined the ‘Chitlin Circuit’ when I was 13. I sang anywhere and everywhere I could, but often for no money. I loved to sing and did so for whoever would listen. However when the singing did not provide any money, I took itinerant jobs on tobacco and cotton farms just to make ends meet.          

But when I turned 18, the excitement and lights of the street were too exciting to pass up. I became a kid of the streets, gambling and pimping my way from city to city. This lifestyle led me straight to drugs. Soon, there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for a buck. I started hustling, winning friends and influencing people all for the purpose of feeding my drug habit.

I knew that I had a problem with drugs and often remembered the lessons that I had learned from Lee as a young boy. Eventually, after years as a hustler, I set out to reform myself and took a job as a gravedigger. I found some success and soon after opened my own office-cleaning business in Plainfield, New Jersey. I was beginning to feel that I had regained the upper hand on my life and was in control of my addictions. But the temptations of women and drugs proved to be overpowering, and I soon fell back into my old ways. I became a regular crack smoker and soon thereafter lost my business.

By 1987, I found myself homeless on the streets of New York. I took to riding the subway at night for warmth and shelter. It was while I was asleep on a subway train, using an old bag of cans for a pillow, that I was awoken by the soft sound of a woman’s voice. “What is a man like you doing in a place like this?” she asked. I lifted my head to see an older woman standing above me with her hand outstretched. Tucked between her fingers was a card for a meal at the Bowery Mission. She offered it to me just before she got off the train. Desperately hungry for a meal, I took the card and headed straight for the mission.

The doors of the mission that I entered that night were the doors that literally opened up to the rest of my life. In the mission, I found love, hope and a way to recover from my addiction. After two years as a resident, I was hired as the Security Supervisor, promoted three years later to Manager of Operations and two years after that to Assistant Director. But perhaps most significant during my years at the Bowery Mission was the singing group I began, called Resurrected Beyond Belief, comprised of all formerly homeless men. We sang gospel tunes, some original compositions and some contemporary gospel tunes, and were good enough to begin receiving invitations to sing at churches, seminaries, universities, prisons and business seminars throughout the United States. Finally I had found my calling.

Today I am the full time Director of the group, scheduling concerts around the US. But more than that, my job is to communicate at every stop we make, the conditions, struggles and challenges that make up the lives of homeless men and women in America. Our purpose is to inspire people to learn to look at homelessness from a new perspective; one that sees the transformation that is possible within all people. As a part of every concert, the members of our group take turns sharing their personal stories of struggle and triumph. What we have all learned is that it is only the love of God that can heal such deep pain as ours.

In spite of difficulties, adversity has taught me something. When you discover the magnificence of self why be anyone else.

James Macklin


Resurrected Beyond Belief

Bowery Mission