By Jerome Wardlow Sr. (Love & Struggle Guest Contributor)
In honor of Black History Month, Jerome Wardlow Sr. from Milwaukee, Wisconsin shares his perspective on being the first Black, four-year graduate in the history of Bethany Lutheran College. Below you will find his words on what he learned about himself while attending and graduating from Bethany Lutheran College.
Thank you Jerome for paving the way for others to follow.
Describing a season in one’s life can be one of the stickiest wickets known to man. Honest reflection requires one to actually reflect on everything. This includes the moments in which the individual reflecting was less than stellar. That piece in and of itself has never been difficult for me. The difficulty came in processing* the experience and improving because of said experience. Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald produced a song in 1996 titled “On My Own”. It is probably not known to everyone. It is a title that simply summarizes how I reflected on events prior to Bethany. You see, prior to Bethany I didn’t have people** in my life that knew how to process situations productively and effectively. There simply was no way for them to teach me how to do something that they couldn’t do or had yet to attempt. My learning as it relates to processing things around me was “On My Own”. I had to be honest with myself and at times, too hard on myself. By not learning how to share what I was experiencing I learned how to survive those difficult moments. Growing from them or striving to be better was not a concept that I understood.
When I reflect on my time at Bethany Lutheran College I think of friends and the people that guided my growth the most. These are the people that helped me process being called “spoiled” by another student because I owned more than two pairs of shoes by a student that bragged about having a home with six bedrooms and three bathrooms. Prior to my time at Bethany, that would’ve been a situation in which I would have been confused. I learned of Bethany through Art Westphal who was the Athletic Director and Basketball coach at the time. Yes, basketball attracted me to Bethany, but my growth was fostered by many others: Ron Younge, Steve Jaeger, Bukata Hayes, Ryan Buch, Dr. John Boubel, Dr. Macpherson, Mr. Wiechman, Ramona Czer, Derek Woodley, Don Westphal, and Rick Jeddeloh. I’m not sure if Rick Jeddeloh even likes me to this day though. There was a moment after a game at Anoka Ramsey in which my best effort was not on display. Coach Jeddeloh made me practice alone with an assistant coach for close to an hour. Because of this moment, I know he loves me. Giving your best effort and not relying on others all the time was a lesson I needed to learn. The Pfeifer family wasn’t employed at Bethany at the time. Mr. Pfeifer worked for Martin Luther College at the time and Mrs. Pfeifer worked at Minnesota Valley Lutheran. However, they were the most influential in my growth because they recognized my shortcomings, accepted me despite them, and nurtured me to process things more effectively. Over the years I have been able to process many of the lessons that I learned from being in and around their home for four years.
To wrap this up, Bethany taught me how to process. The environment created the opportunity for me to grow in a peaceful space. Not nearly as many distractions as my time before Bethany. There were moments that I’m not proud of. My time there taught me how to grow from those experiences. By the end of my stay there, I was no longer “On My Own”.
*Processing the things that are happening to you. For the first time, I was processing things that were so different that what I was use to… things that were heretofore foreign and alien to me.
**They loved me deeply, provided for me as well as they could but because of the pressures that inner city, “concrete jungle” dwelling applies on people trying to make it, you didn’t get time to process things. You had to worry about the next crisis around the corner of paying the light bill, finding better employment, buying groceries or making a dollar out of fifteen cents. They were not incapable of processing things effectively but simply did not have the time and space conducive for proper processing.
Jerome Wardlow Sr. is graduate of Milwaukee Trade and Technical High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jerome went on to graduate from Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota in 2005. He is currently employed as a Special Education Teacher West Allis Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wisconsin and is involved in the community as the Greenfield Girls Basketball Club Communications Coordinator and Board Member, Wilson Premier Youth Baseball Operations Commissioner, Greenfield Youth Baseball U8 Coach, and Nathan Hale Defensive Backs and Wide Receiver Coach/JV offensive coordinator. Jerome is the former Wisconsin Conservatory Of Lifelong Learning (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) Varsity Basketball/Girls Fastpitch Head Coach.