Ready For Battle

DISD hired Clarence Glover to defuse a racial crisis. But is he tough enough for the job?

"I would like to be more high-profile," he says. "I have done my part. Should the superintendent choose a different route, that is his choice. I cannot force myself into these things. I walk in and try to do something and..." He slaps the top of his desk and wags his finger, as if chastising a child. "Emotionally, they aren't dealing with me."

If it is too early to evaluate how well Glover is calming racial tensions at DISD, it is timely to take a look at the background of this man who, despite a reputation in some racial-conflict-resolution circles, is little-known in Dallas despite his 16 years here.

Today, the DISD appears to be on the road to racial ruin. Will Glover's influence make a difference?

Early on a recent Friday morning, Glover, 40, is reflecting upon the influences in his past that have brought him to his current career juncture. He is a tall, lean man with an elegant bearing, and is wearing a dark suit, slip-on loafers with dark socks, and a bright-yellow T-shirt advertising a new Spanish-language television show the district is producing.

His office is adorned with symbols of the influences he describes, particularly in the form of his parents' photograph and his certificate of ordination as a Christian Methodist Episcopal minister. Although he has never presided over a CME congregation, Glover nonetheless considers his career path to be ministry--a social ministry that he has styled after the goals of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

If the view seems a bit lofty, he came by naturally a sense of destiny that perhaps amounts to noblesse oblige.

Glover grew up in a sizable all-black community in Louisiana--Cooper Road, now a suburb of Shreveport called Martin Luther King Community. Glover's family was among Cooper Road's most-prominent residents. His great-grandfather owned land and hired others, both black and white, to sharecrop cotton on it. His father, also named Clarence, was a community leader, spearheading civil-rights demonstrations in Shreveport and also attending to more practical matters, such as helping Cooper Road establish its first sewer system. Glover's childhood was that of a privileged son watching his community strive to create an environment where blacks could lead productive lives, without harassment.

"My early years were really about self-determination, seeing African-Americans work together for a cause," he says.

His mother, Elizabeth Glover, remembers that from an early age her oldest son was a reconciler who hated to see others at odds. She says that he often persuaded bickerers to discuss their differences. And, she says, he had a big heart: "He was a kind person, not self-centered. He always went one step beyond to help people."

Perhaps it was the church that nurtured whatever selflessness Glover possessed. His family helped found the Christian Methodist Episcopal church in Cooper Road and, during his late teens, Glover was on track to become one of its leaders, according to Bishop Thomas Hoyt, presiding bishop over the fourth CME district. Hoyt explains that the "C" in CME originally stood for colored. When that changed during the 1950s--when Clarence was about 2 years old--the denomination began making attempts to bridge the gap between black and white Methodists. "Clarence was brought up with an early respect for multiculture," Hoyt says.

Two experiences knocked Glover off the conventional bishop track. The first, Glover says, is that early on he became obsessed with the ideals of Martin Luther King.

Shortly after King's assassination, Glover's father took his 10-year-old son to Memphis to the Lorraine Hotel, where King had died. The elder Glover was besotted with King and constantly pointed out parallels between his own life and the slain leader's. He made much of the facts that both he and King had fathered four children and were civil-rights leaders. He had intended this pilgrimage to ensure that his boy understood the gravity of beliefs that are valued greater than one's own life.

Glover remembers that he paced the length of the room, sat on the bed, reverently touched the furniture. With him was a tour guide, who gave the young boy a photograph of King lying in his coffin. "This man died for you," the guide said. "He died for me. He died for all of us, for our freedom."

The visit had enormous impact upon the young Glover. "As I grew, I wanted to learn a lot more about Martin Luther King," he says. "His speeches became part of my speeches in school. His philosophy of nonviolence became part of my own."

As his father did before him, he began to notice similarities between his life and King's. They both had strong father figures. They both entered school intending to become lawyers, but let their strong ties to the church dictate their ordinations instead.

"It's not that I saw myself as Martin," he says familiarly. "It's just that I saw these paths."

Glover traveled to Atlanta and says he came to know the King family. "They became my teachers," he says. "They began to teach me that a minister need not be a pastor. To be a minister dealing with social issues is a legitimate call." (Attempts to reach the King family for comment through the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta were unsuccessful.)

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