Energy! Eye contact! Enthusiasm! These qualities naturally spill forth from Bread For All volunteer Herman every Monday as he takes his usual place in line where he shows neighbors an array of items, depending on the particular week’s supply, from grooming products and jarred peppers to yogurt covered raisins. Herm lights up as he interacts with neighbors – his exuberance comes from his personal and professional experiences.
Herm grew up a military brat which led to him to attend five different high schools during the late ’60s – the heyday of the Civil Rights Era. His high school path included schools in the south and north. At the beginning of his sophomore year in Louisiana, a science teacher told him that he wasn’t in favor of Herm’s “kind” being in the same school with white kids. Herm was the only black student in the biology class. The teacher said that he’d grade Herm’s work, nevertheless, for its own merits. Herm got a B in the class but thought he easily earned an A. Herm wanted to compete for the track team at the newly integrated high school. He was disappointed to discover that the athletic programs in his school’s district were still segregated – only whites could compete. What his mother had always told him gave him a shield of protection against some of the racism he experienced: “You’re always going to have to be twice as good as white people to be successful.” Two and a half years later, in Ohio, Herm graduated third in his class of 274 students. That same year, 1970, he was finally able to don a track team jersey, competing for his high school team in the 220-yard run and the long jump.
Decades later after tracing his father’s footsteps, Herm retired from more than twenty-five years of military service. While working US Army and Air Force job posts monitoring civil rights and equal opportunity, Herm completed both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. As a civilian, he went to work for the State of Texas’s Health and Human Services (HHS) in its Civil Rights Office. Eventually, Herm would serve as director of the office, tasked with the responsibility to ensure that HHS’s agencies and those contracting with them complied with federal and state civil rights laws and regulations. It gave Herm ample opportunity to interact with state employees and many others, providing education on issues of equality and promoting civility in human relationships. Toward the end of his service as director of the office, Herm decided to pursue a Ph.D. in education. His dissertation (linked here) is a qualitative study of eight black males in pursuit of higher education, examined through the lens of critical race theory, comparing and contrasting their successful journeys despite the racism that hampered each one of them. He completed the degree in 2012.
“Breaking down barriers and treating people with respect and dignity is what I’ve been about for a long time.” His dissertation includes his own story, and details part of his final year in high school when he and a white classmate canvassed lunchrooms talking to fellow students about prevalent name-calling and racist behavior. Herm and his cohort, Bob, weren’t best buddies – Herm didn’t like Bob’s country music, and Bob didn’t like Herm’s psychedelic soul music – but they wanted to be role models at their school to show that honest conversation about important issues could happen with respect, even when participants disagreed. It became Herm’s life work, and an important subject matter of his doctoral study.
Herm was baptized at St. John’s/San Juan, an Austin City Lutherans (ACL) congregation, in 2005. His parents didn’t take him to church when he was a child, but he remembers attending a Lutheran congregation with a neighboring white family in New York while living there. As an adult seeker, he felt comfortable in black Baptist churches, but immediately felt at home when he walked into St. John’s/San Juan Lutheran. Herm agrees, as was stated by Martin Luther King Jr., that the most segregated time in the United States should not be during Sunday worship!
When ACL started Bread For All in 2013, Herm was one of the first volunteers to get involved. “My faith is very important to me, but faith without acts is not enough. That’s why I volunteer. I’ve been blessed with an abundance of resources and good health. I can write checks . . . but that’s not enough, either. The doing, the touching, the seeing, the lifting up, and the bringing of joy, that’s why I volunteer at the food pantry.
“I benefit substantially when I see a smile on another face. My own joy increases when I have an opportunity to share something with our neighbors because that’s closer to the truer sense of who we are as Lutherans and Christians: helping one another. It makes me more complete.”
Bread For All is grateful to have Herm as one of its consistent volunteers. A bridger who connects with peoples of different backgrounds and experiences, Herm makes our gathered BFA community on Monday evenings not only more complete, but sufficiently spirited!