Day 278 - Preacher (2nd person I approached)
October 05, 2014 - I thought the first person I approached saw me walking up to her, but the way she flinched when I said hello told me otherwise. I felt so bad for alarming her. She was charming and politely declined when I asked her to talk, but said she’d heard of my project and wished me all the best. When I saw Preacher, I made sure he saw me, just short of waving my arms in the air as I swooped in for the approach. He agreed to chat with me, telling me he had about five minutes before he had to get on a train and head to the ferry terminal.
Preacher was born in Victoria, BC (British Columbia). His maternal grandparents were German and Polish and moved to Victoria after World War 1. His mother was also born in Victoria. His father was from the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, a name chosen as a collective term to describe the fifteen closely related nations of western Vancouver Island. Preacher is a member of the Ahousaht band.
“I have one older sister and three half sisters. It’s a little complicated, but two of my half sisters came from a previous marriage of my father’s. My other half sister came about through surrogacy. My mother was one of the first surrogate’s in BC. She donated her egg and carried the baby for my godparent’s. After she was born, my godmother became concerned that my mother would want to keep the child. They moved away and we didn’t see them for twenty years. My mother ran into my godmother in a store on the sunshine coast. We all reconnected, but they’ve moved away again. I was about three when this all happened so I don’t really remember it much at all,” he said.
“It was just my older sister, my mother and I growing up. My father was out of the picture when I was very young. He was abusive. We moved around a bit in order to stay away from him,” Preacher told me. He lived in Victoria, Vancouver, North Vancouver, Squamish and the Gulf Islands while growing up.
“I went to a wonderful alternative school in North Vancouver up until Grade six. Windsor House* had a focus on working at the child’s learning ability. There were no classes, the students lead the learning and there was a lot of hands-on learning in art as well. They had a unique approach to conflict resolution as well. I had a disagreement with one of the other kids. They sat us in a room with a few other kids and two adults to keep things moving along and not focus on negativity. We were encouraged to talk it out, to express what was bothering each of us. The final solution was that he and I had to spend time together outside of school. We were actually quite similar to one another and just lacked clear communication between us. To this day he is still a good friend and I am grateful for him in my life,” he said. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
Preacher met up with his father when he was in his early teens.
“We never really connected. There wasn’t any common ground for us, we didn’t have any history. He passed away not too long after that,” he told me. Preacher was skipping a lot of classes at school and had a conversation with his guidance counsellor about that.
“He told me that I needed to make sure I was doing my work. I was a good student, I was getting A’s but I didn’t do all the work and didn’t go to all my classes. The counsellor told me that he felt the principal was looking for a reason to kick me out. Even though they played up on the fact that I was an Aboriginal student getting A’s,” he said.
“There was this kid that had been bullying me. He was friends with some older kids that had been picking on me for over a year. This one day, I had just about enough and told him, if he didn’t leave me alone, he’d regret it. He continued and so I chased him all around the outside of the school and then after a bit, he ran into the school. By this time I had run off most of my aggression, so when i caught up with him, I just gave him a little push. He was a small kid and he kinda went back into the lockers. A school custodian saw it. I got expelled. I got bullied and got A’s and improved my attendance, but I got expelled. I was sixteen,” he said.
He looked at his watch at this point and said he would have to get going. I took a couple of pictures and found out a couple of more things about what he was doing now. We said our goodbyes, Preacher went to catch his train and I went to get some groceries. It was like so many of the situations I’ve encountered throughout this project. I could easily have spent another hour or so chatting with Preacher. I knew there was so much more to his story. After getting groceries and heading back towards home some thirty minutes later, I saw Preacher again. He was waiting to cross the street at the same place where I was crossing. He had decided that he wasn’t going to make the ferry he planned on, and went to a store nearby to get an errand done. I asked if we could chat a bit more, and there was no hesitation whatsoever from Preacher. We found a place to sit down and picked up where we left off.
Preacher had been in foster care for about eighteen months starting when he was thirteen years old.
“My mother was having some difficulty with the fact that I was growing up and her negative experiences with my father. She had some things that she needed to work through. When I was fourteen, she told me she wanted me to come back home. She had worked things out for herself.
“After getting kicked out of school,” he said,
“I found out about this program offered by North Vancouver City. It was a Public Arts Program. I thought it would be great to get involved with something like that. I’ve been drawing and painting so long I don’t even remember when I started. The minimum age for the program was twenty-one. I was sixteen. My mother told me that I should go anyway and take my portfolio. So I did. And I was one of the nine people selected to take part in the program,” said Preacher.
“The program focus was on public art projects. Things like painting murals, beautifying benches and working on community-centred art projects.
“I definitely learned and grew as an artist. There was a feature project monthly. I was asked to carve a bench that was to sit outside Presentation House (Gallery and Theatre) in North Vancouver. They chose the image, the two faces of ‘Tragedy and Comedy’ and I carved it in a large portion of a tree that was perfect for this bench. It was the single piece I am most proud of from that program. I think they also wanted me to do it so they could say it was an Aboriginal artist that carved it. I was very pleased with the final carving,” he said, with a big smile.
After the program ended, Preacher did a number of different jobs working in construction and retail.
“Then I started cooking. I spent most of the next twelve years working in restaurants as a line cook. I love cooking and I enjoy cooking at home as well. When you cook all day it takes some of the pleasure out of cooking at home. After twelve years, I stopped working in restaurants and went into retail again. I got a job where I could make someone else rich, get paid and go home at the end of my shift,” he told me.
One month ago today, Preacher started a new chapter.
“I’m going to Camosun College in Victoria, to study for my Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and Psychology. I’ll probably go on to get a Master’s degree after that. I want to go on to become a youth counsellor. I also am very interested in working in Culture and Language Revitalization. In order to keep First Nations culture and traditions alive, we need to preserve them, and the language as well. Otherwise it will be forgotten. I want to see it to practised and used,” he said.
“Plus I want to create a job for myself that will help me with my future. I have a fiancé and i want to have a family and provide for them. To give my family all the things I didn’t have.”
“I’m really glad that we had a chance to continue with this conversation,” Preacher told me.
“I introduced myself to you at the start of out chat and said they call me ‘Preacher’. You’re very kind and I think what you are doing is amazing, so I wanted to share why the name Preacher. I felt when we ended out chat that it was a bit unresolved, so I’m grateful the universe unfolded this way,” he said.
“When I was about fifteen, I went online and paid to take a test to become ordained and be able to marry people. I did research and studied and checked out the validity of the certificate this place issued. They’re located somewhere in the southern US (United States). I just really wanted to be able to say I can marry people,” he said.
“I completed that and I was doing some youth mentoring work with a group of kids. A friend came over and, trying to be funny, said ‘Oh your talking to the Preacher.’ Turns out they liked that and it became a moniker that stuck. There are two distinct groups of people in my life. My family and friends who have known me for years and call me Donavin. That’s my name. And those that I see round or talk to casually on the street or wherever, and I’ll walk by and hear ‘Hey Preacher!’” #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://windsorhouseschool.org/about-us-2/