His candle burned on both ends
21st November 2013 · 0 Comments
By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Part of South Side Fort Worth’s urban renewal project, Evans Avenue Plaza is an acre of brick and marble slab design inscribed with stories of local and national African-American leaders in education, politics, the military, music, religion, social and civic activities.
Standing in the middle at the inner perimeter of the inlaid marble arch and facing Evans Avenue, one can turn to the left, count to the second 4 ½-foot by 2-foot marble slab and read, “Why do you think so small? Sign your name big & bold!” Vernon Newton, Program Director of the Buffalo Soldiers & Street Outreach Program, Fort Worth.
Big and bold is exactly what Vernon Azrie Newton was. “He was always pulling my pigtails,” Janae tells of Vernon as a small boy. From such devilment to which most small boys are prone, the complex personality of Vernon morphed into a dynamic youth leader of whom Judy says, “He was a great speaker.” Hence, the marble inscription in Evans Plaza.
Vernon’s mother, Delores “D,” says of her 50-year-old son, “Several parents of his former youth have called to give me their condolences, and one parent, Mrs. Ross, said she sees Vernon as a son and her son sees him as his brother. They said their sons were very positively influenced by Mr. Newton. All of them said he may have saved their son’s life. Each one had a story about Vernon’s impact on their son.
“Vernon just recently was at Morningside Middle School giving a motivational speech on ‘Empowering Monday’ and all of the male students were very impressed with him. He relayed to his sister Angele what a life-changing experience that was for him, to get him out of the bed and up sharing with the students.”
His multiple youth ministry included Program Director and Guidance Counselor, Program Development & Implementation, Budgeting, Marketing, Logistics, Fundraising, Parent Training & Conflict Resolution, Diversity Training, Curriculum Development, Workshop Presenter & Public Speaker, Gang Counselor & Interventionist, AAU Basketball Coach, Staff Management, The Buffalo Soldier Heritage Program for boys aged 10-17, Street Outreach Youth aged 10-21.
Vernon was recognized in Austin by State Representative Glen Lewis, State Senator Royce west and former Governor George Bush for the work he had done with The Buffalo Soldier Heritage Program for boys aged 10-17 and the Street Outreach Youth Aged 10-21.
A resumé for the above-mentioned would be more than enough, but Vernon also had a pedestrian resume’ of everyday labor: Material Inventory Clerk, Bell Helicopter Public Company, 10,001+ employees; TXT; Aviation & Aerospace Industry July 2009 — June 2012; Ship, Receive, Audit & Stock Inventory; Forklift & Swinglift certified; Bulk Material Stocker; Program Director & Guidance Counselor; The Bridge Emergency Youth Services from November 1994 – October 2007.
Alas, in the midst of his impassioned ministry to the youth, Vernon was stricken with a series of mysterious afflictions while he was still a very young man in his thirties. There was the extremely rare, seemingly incurable, form of cancer that beset him. That was soon compounded by the onset of diabetes and finally a life-threatening cardiac condition.
Called Little Vernon, he was taller and larger than his father who is bigger than the average man. Loud and boisterous, he went full-bore at everything, no matter what he was doing. More accurately, Vernon habitually burned his candle at both ends and even tried the middle. Instead of the usual inhaling and exhaling, he drew life in with huge gulps.
And so was his marriage to soul mate Jodi Johnson, savoring their slice of paradise, albeit for but a handful of years. No biological mother could be closer to his son Ashten.
“I finally got myself together last night,” Jodi mused on the phone. “Ashten was with me and we shared much, smiling about how small he was at our wedding. I felt Vernon was with us as we reminisced and conversed.” A crushed Ashten is in from Indiana University.
“That is not the way it is supposed to be. Vernon should be burying us, the parents,” both Delores and Big Vernon are saying, yet bearing up through faith in God. Vernon’s sister Angele, her daughter Ajani, Aunt Dianne and Uncle Larry are also heavy with sorrow.
“Vernon was the knit/glue that kept his family together. He was the favorite nephew, cousin of most of his family,” reflected Delores. “He kept telling people that he should have died 13 years ago.” Evidently, his work was not done until dawn of November 2.
This article originally published in the November 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.