By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Steered by a familiar phrase from his father, Keith Clark has helped other longshoremen wheel shiny new bicycles into inner city schools at Christmas for the past three years.
“My father always said, ‘A man who helps a child is a man but, a man who does not help a child is a child,’“ said Clark, who helped organize the bike giveaway three years ago. Because Clark put wings on his father’s familiar phrase about 35 students at James Monroe Elementary received a free bike from the International Longshoreman’s Association Local 1248 and Local 970 on Dec. 15 at noon.
That same phrase last Christmas pushed Clark and other union members to wheel 25 bikes into Bowling Park Elementary, where 66.81 percent receive free or reduced lunches state records show. About 91 percent of the students at Monroe Elementary receive free or discounted lunches.
“Each year we select a school,” he said. “We look at the background of the community before we pick a school. We look to see what community is hit hard. A lot of kids in these areas have questions such as how is my Christmas going to be? We try to make a positive impact on children because a lot of families are in need.”
Guidance counselors choose the recipients. And after union members donate private funds, they go to Wal Mart, purchase the bicycles and sometimes assemble them.
“Every year we go into our pocket and give back to the community,” Clark said, pointing to a list of dock workers who share his values. “Joe Stillwell makes an outstanding donation every year,” Clark said.
“Others who help each year are Fred Spence, David Riddick, Aaron Taylor, Reggie Johnson, Shawn Brooks, Tyrone Parker, and the Wooten Brothers.”
“We do it to give back,” he said. “We had so much help this year,” Clark said pointing to Keith Matthews, who established Keith Matthews Funeral Service in 2009.
Of his ongoing support for the bike giveaway program, Matthews said, “We always try to do something special for the kids. There are so many other things they could be doing. So we do it to show them that we love and care them about it.”
“I am involved in this program and other community projects just for the love of it,” said Matthews, who also coached Amateur Athletic Union basketball for 15 years and volunteers at Village Church, where he is a member.
“So many people out here need help and a lift,” Matthews said. “Some people just want someone to talk to, and to listen to their problems. So I always try to help others.”
Guided by beliefs instilled in him by his father, James C. Clark, who passed in 2005 and his mother Lena M. Clark, 79, who lives in Norfolk, Clark said he and other union members delivered about $2200 worth of shiny new bikes to about three dozen students at Monroe.
Said Clark, who has been a member of member of the United House of Prayer for 19 years, “This allows many of us to go back to neighborhoods and situations that we made it out of, and give back.”