Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Career Shifts

BOND: Now, I understand you began preaching at an early age.

FLAKE: Right.

BOND: But it was only later that you actually professionally become a minister. How'd that happen?

FLAKE: Well, in reality, I guess I've always been that. I mean, I was pastoring at nineteen, but I was also in school. I was also waiting tables at the Biltmore Hotel in Dayton, Ohio, and serving meals at the [university] president's house and working in the cafeteria. So, for me it's always been ministry plus something else. The Bible talks about other things being added unto. When I left Ohio to go out to Lincoln as Associate Dean of Students, the reality is out there I took a church. I was pastor of Second Presbyterian in Westchester. When I got to Boston, I pastored a church in Newport, Rhode Island, until the chaplain died and they asked me to be university chaplain. And so, in every instance – when I was with Xerox, I was pastoring a church. When I was in Boston, I had a church also. And when I was in Congress, I had a church. So I've always ministered. And then everything else has been added unto. And I think that's been valuable for me.

BOND: But a day has to come -- because there was a period when you were a social worker.

FLAKE: I was a social worker and I was also a minister.

BOND: But the social work was your profession?

FLAKE: That was -- that was what I was training for.

BOND: And the day has to come though when you decide "I'm not going to be a social worker -- "

FLAKE: Oh, yeah.

BOND: "I'm going to be a minister."

FLAKE: Well, actually, because my degree was in psychology, I was doing social work. But that day came when I was working in a halfway house in Philadelphia as a co-op student. And one of the patients in that house -- and we were trying to transition people for work and life after being in Byberry, the State Hospital, or in Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute -- and we would bring them into this halfway house. And when I went up to see a young man who had taken an overdose and realized that I could not possibly be a psychologist or social worker because I carried the burden of the people. And that kind of burden would probably ultimately destroy me. You do that in ministry as well, but there's a difference. Because you dare to believe that there is a possibility for cure and healing. In that other environment, the psychological environment, I did not get a sense after a while that you could heal everybody. And so for me, I think that was when I realized I was definitely going to seminary. And rather than going on and getting a master's in psychology, that ministry was going to be a part of my life. But because I was in the AME church, I also said that I did not ever want to pastor full time. And so I tried to balance off this bi-vocational approach to life until the Lord just finally got me and forced me for at least a season to be full-time in ministry. But subsequent to that, I've always been bi-vocational.