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Kenneth Barbour

JS: This is John Stanko bringing you another hero in our Urban Heroes series for 2009-2010. Today I have a friend of CUBM and our community, Dr. Kenneth Barbour. Dr. Barbour, tell us a little bit about what’s going on in your life right now. What are you doing and what’s your direction?

KB: Well I’m currently serving as the principle at Hillcrest Christian Academy in Bethel Park. Our school is Pre-K through grade 8.

JS: Now, you have some other roots in Bethel Park. Didn’t you work there before?

KB: No, actually I lived there in Bethel Park for more than 35 years. And I’ve been involved as the captain of the crime watch committee there in Bethel Park, part of the citizens advisory committee. We also formed a human relations committee, which I was a part of in Bethel Park. As my kids, my three daughters, attended school there, elementary, middle, and high school, we were involved in many of their activities as well.

JS: How long have you been with Hillcrest? KB: Eight years. JS: But you’re background, your life, has been in education, has it not?

KB: Yes, education and also theology.

JS: Tell us more about the education. What are some of the other things you’ve done in that area? Where else did you work? Where else were you employed?

KB: I began as a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. And I had very rewarding years as a teacher, but felt the need to be able to touch more lives of young people as a school administrator. And I found that in that position, instead of touching maybe thirty students every day, that sometimes I’d have 300 to 600 kids I’d be responsible for, as far as goal setting, and teacher supervision, and just being visible for the kids. So, I began as a teacher, but then I was promoted as an assistant principle.

JS: What were you teaching?

KB: I was the elementary teacher.

JS: Elementary. Not many men go into elementary.

KB: You’re right. The highest grade I ever taught was eighth grade. And I thought, (sigh), “No, I’m not cut out for this.”

JS: (laughing) You went back to the younger ones. So how many years were you an elementary school teacher?

KB: I taught ten years. During that time, I took classes at Pitt to work on my administrative certificate. And at that time, I got my principal certification, and also my elementary supervisors certificate there. And I became an assistant principal, then I became a school principal.

JS: Always still within the city schools?

KB: Within the city schools, yes. I was principal at Manchester Elementary School, and I was there for ten years. One day I got a call from the superintendent, and she said she’d like to talk to me. And so, I went to her office. And she said: “You know we have a school in Westgate Village, Broadhead Manor, that’s been closed for ten years. And the school board wants to reopen it, but we’re having such a terrible time. There are so many people who are against it. There are so many protests because people don’t feel it’s important to open up another school. It’s not a good place to open it. Would you be willing to accept that challenge?” So I looked at the school and walked around, and I accepted it. I went to the Westgate-Broadhead community, which was known as one of the highest crime rated neighborhoods in the city. Nobody wanted to send their children there to school. But I reopened that school in 1969, and it was called Westside Academy. It was a back to basics school. And I introduced also, uniforms. We were one of the first schools in the city of Pittsburgh to institute uniforms within the schools. It was a magnet school. And, John, honestly, it was the best-kept secret in the city of Pittsburgh. We drew students from every area in the city of Pittsburgh. And it was a racially balanced school and it was not a problem at all. We had a waiting list, because they liked what was happening with the school.

JS: Now, that’s in the Hill District?

KB: No, that was in Westgate-Broadhead Manor in the West End. At any rate, while I was there one day, I was outside and getting the kids in. It was in the midst of winter, and I was talking to a parent who was waiting for a PAT bus with her child. And I said to her: “Are you on your way to school?” And she said: “No, my child is sick. And I’m taking my child to Allegheny General Hospital.” I said, “Just wait a minute.” So I put the parent and the child in my car and drove them to Allegheny General Hospital. Coming back I said to myself, “Here’s a community where we have a school and there’s no health facilities.” So I talked to the folks at Blue Cross/Blue Shield, we worked up a partnership and we began to meet. From that, we established a health center there in the Broadhead Westgate community. It was in a trailer that was, I think, 60 by 12 and on school property. We actually had permission from the school board. And we were able to offer health services there for the community, as a school, which thought was really awesome. The building is still there for sure, and we also had volunteer folk. Once we wrote the proposal, we had folks coming to volunteer, and I mean medical folk, who were volunteering their services to come meet the needs of the people in the community. It was really such a blessing to me. JS: So how long were you there at West End? KB: I was there five years. I left the district at that point in time to become superintendent of the Wilkinsburg School District.

JS: Really? I didn’t know you were in Wilkinsburg.

KB: I served as superintendent of Wilkinsburg. It was a short stay. It was two years before I stepped down. I felt that I actually was dying educationally, so to speak. As superintendent, I felt that I was being inundated with so many different situations that many times don’t really apply to academics. I missed the kids, I missed the interactions with the teachers and the kids, and the classroom.

JS: Too far away from the action.

KB: Yes. I just missed that. It seemed like that I was in an ivory tower for 24/7. And I missed being in a school and the academic setting. There were times when I made academic decisions, that part of the job wasn’t the problem. But the worst part about it was the fact that while I was superintendent, there were students in Wilkinsburg who were going through some very, very severe times with gang violence. And I know there was a kid one day that was even shot and killed after school in front of the building. I formed a group that would meet on Wednesdays, with Lou Gentile from the Greensburg Correctional Institution. And Lou would come to Wilkinsburg every Wednesday morning. We met with the leaders of these gangs. We would have them in a meeting every Wednesday morning. And we would talk to them about life. Talk to them, to raise their levels of self-esteem. And bring them together to start talking to each other. Then on Friday nights, I’d go back, I’d go home and change clothes and I’d go back to the Boys Club there They would play basketball down there. I’d go back there and shoot a couple hoops. I wasn’t that great, but I would show up. You know John, I believe it made a difference. We saw a difference. I think it cut down a great deal on the violence. Also, while I was in Wilkinsburg, during that short period of time, we had our first night football game. I think it was the first time in twenty-five years because of the violence. It was so fearful. We rented portable lights. And people thought we couldn’t do it. I talked to my team of guys, and I said, “We’re going to do it!” We had a great day. That’s just a little side thing.

JS: Sure. We could fill the whole book with all your activities and fascinating stories. So, where from Wilkinsburg? Now you step down…

KB: I stepped down as Superintendent. Some asked me, “Why would you do that?” I said, “Well, simply because I want to return back to a situation where I really loved being there along with the interaction with the teachers.”

JS: So you stayed in Wilkinsburg, and you became a principal?

KB: No, no. I was hired in the Oakmont, Riverview school district. I was the only African American there. I guess I was a pioneer, because they had never had an African American teacher or administrator. So I went through an interviewing process. I was interviewed with five other people, who were all Caucasian, and I was hired. I stayed there for five years. During that time, it was a very rewarding experience for me. I still have connections there with the school. While I was in the city schools also, I was quite active in providing services for teachers and for principals. I traveled from school to school. Also in the city schools, we implemented our character education program. I initiated the character education program within the city schools of Pittsburgh and I would provide in-service for the teachers and the administrators in the city schools. I did that for a number of years.

JS: So, always been involved in education. This is part and parcel with who you are.

KB: Yes, I have John. But actually, if I could just go back beyond that to how I got involved in education. Early in life I felt called as a missionary to go to Africa. In order to prepare to go to Africa, the requirement was to have a degree in theology, plus have a teaching certificate. And so I prepared my life with both, only to discover within three weeks of sailing that my wife had a medical issue, and so the Lord closed that door. At that point in time, I went to the city schools and said, “You know, I want to apply for a job.” I got hired, and that became my mission field.

JS: Did you ever make it to Africa?

KB: I have. I’ve been there on four occasions. The most recent was in 2000, when I did a teaching seminar over in Liberia, West Africa, at the university there.

JS: So you said earlier, you were kind of on a dual track. You did education and you did theology. Tell us about your theology preparation and your expressions through your adult life.

KB: Well, that began before education. That began at Harty Bible School. And that’s where I was born again. I went to Harty Bible School and the Lord called me to the mission field. I felt a calling on my life. I knew the Lord had a special calling for me. And I felt that I had been called to be a missionary. So I wanted to go to a college that really focused a lot on missions. I went to the Cincinnati Bible College. And that’s where I got my degree. Then I went to the University of Cincinnati and got my teaching certificate and my degree. Then I returned back to Pitt and got my masters. So basically, my initial calling in life, I felt, was to be a missionary to Africa, Liberia, West Africa. But you know the Lord showed me that my mission for Him was in America. All those number of years, I spent 37 years in public education. And all those 37 years were unto the Lord. I was never inhibited at all in my position for the Lord. They knew that I was a born-again believer. But mostly, I wanted to walk my talk. I wanted people to see who I was.

JS: So God just redirected your mission from one place to another? KB: He did.

JS: But it was still ministry. KB: I had been in Harty Bible School and I began teaching there in 1976. Then in 1984 I became the president of the school, plus teacher. And just this past year, I stepped down.

JS: So you had a nice, long tenure.

KB: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I am still considered an advisor to the school.

JS: Well if anybody listening or reading isn’t familiar with Hardy, it is a magnificent program. In the Hill, is that where it‘s located?

KB: It’s in the Hill. Yes.

JS: Has educated many, many of our urban leaders. And some of them have come on to the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry. But I run into Harty graduates everywhere I go in the city. Every part.

KB: Well, we took a look at your CUBM curriculum. Maybe ten years ago. And we’d begin to rewrite certain parts of ours…

JS: At Harty.

KB: Yes, to align our curriculum with CUBM and Geneva. Then we began a learn/work program, and began to implement it within the school to encourage our people. Every year, we offer to one of our graduates, a scholarship to come to either the Geneva College Degree Completion Program or CUBM. JS: Well, thank you. We are grateful… KB: I also taught here one semester.

JS: What are some of the things you’ve taught at Harty. What have been some of your strong points, or your emphasis in your ministry?

KB: Well, teaching first. I’ve taught Exodus, the second year. But also, being the president of the school, I was prepared to teach every single class. I’ve had teachers give me the notes, I sat in their classes, and I was prepared to teach all four years – with the exception of prophecy. I am not near that yet. I’m working on it.

JS: (laughing) There’s still time. That’s your long-range goal.

KB: (laughing) Yes, but I saw administration has been one of my strong points within the Bible school. With our staff, and staff in service, even though that more people that love the Lord, and they’re committed to it, but yet, it’s important for me as the administrator to be able to provide the professional Christian development for people. I was involved in upgrading the curriculum and workshops and conducting retreats and things like that.

JS: Let’s go way back now. You’re so focused, you’re committed to excellence and you have been involved at a grass roots level no matter where you’ve been. Talk about your growing up. Are you from Pittsburgh? What was your family life like? And where did you pick up all these values of excellence and commitment and service?

KB: Well John, I was born and raised in a small town west of Pittsburgh called Oakdale.

JS: Out by the airport.

KB: Yes, I think it has a population of about 1,700 people. And it hasn’t grown much since. Now the hills and the valleys have been developed by Ryan Homes, but the little, small town of Oakdale is still there and still very quaint, as it was. There were thirteen of us, seven boys and six girls. My father was a coal miner and worked very hard. My mother cleaned peoples’ houses. She also washed clothes for people and ironed because there were many days when we had to stop at folks homes and pick up their laundry and take it home to wash their sheets and iron or whatever. We were very poor, extremely poor. There were days when we didn’t know where our next meal was coming from. There were times that I had holes in my shoes. One pair of pants I would wear all week and then I would wash them off, and wear them again. As far as our home bathroom facilities, we had outhouses. So our parents worked very hard. My parents raised us off their gardens with chickens, pigs, and ducks, you name it. That’s how we survived.

JS: My grandfather did the same thing.

KB: My father was very strict with us. We had to work very hard. I guess that’s one reason why I don’t have a garden now.

JS: (laughing)

KB: (laughing) The summer it was like, no, I want it to be fun! I have to work all summer. I’d be out playing ball and having a good time. But we had to work in the garden and take care of all the livestock, the pigs, and the chickens, the ducks, and whatever. But my parents, you know, they were poor and were not really educated. They were intelligent, but my parents came from the south. And my father had an eighth grade education, I believe. And mom had about a third or fourth grade education. I might have flipped it back and forth, but I’m not sure. I know their education was very limited. They were good people and they were very bright and intelligent people. They also had high standards. Even though they were very, very poor. But to talk to any Barbour, you’d think they were one of the richest people in town. It was because our parents instilled in us dignity. They instilled in us determination. They instilled some very basic qualities in us such as courage, perseverance, selfesteem, always believe in who you are. Do the best you can. Don’t feel as though that because you are black and poor that you can’t make it in life. I mean, we were always encouraged to go beyond high school. You’re either going to get a good job or you’re going to college. That’s what my parents instilled into us. As a result, I’m very thankful for that. It wasn’t easy. They were very strict also and disciplinarians. Also they were Christian. They kept us in church. On Sundays, it was church, John! (laughing)

JS: All day?

KB: All day.

JS: What church?

KB: We were born and raised in the Methodist church, an AME Zion church. It was a very small church there in Oakdale and we loved it. It was great. But church, it was Sunday. If we didn’t have any services on Sunday, we had to sit on the porch and be quiet. We couldn’t play ball on Sunday. My parents, they gave us a great start, I feel like it was because of who they were. In spite of the difficulty they had, they taught us that you can be whatever you want to be.

JS: How did they feel when you went on to school? When you went on to Cincinnati and Pitt?

KB: Well you know, they were not happy because they weren’t able to finance my schooling, as well as any for my other brothers and sisters. That’s why some of my brothers and sisters did not graduate from college. And we had to struggle. So they were very happy to know that I was going to make it on my own, and I did. I worked very hard to get through school. And naturally I got school loans, as a lot of kids do nowadays. But they were very pleased with it.

JS: Most of our urban heroes, as we talk with them, have had a very strong family situation, whatever their economic status. That, we see less and less today. How do we compensate? What do we do as we go forward to instill some of these values that were instilled in you from the time you were small up until you were ready to leave. How do we compensate for that today?

KB: I think, John, that’s one of the reasons why, when I was in the city schools, that I felt strongly in my own heart that as a teacher and an educator, that we needed to begin with a character education program. Really, John, it’s only teaching them the basic values of life. You know, the things that our parents were teaching us. There was a time when a lot of the parents were concerned about “Don’t teach my kid values in schools.” You know the values clarification issue we had in the 60’s. This is what I’m talking about. I’m talking about teaching our kids the red-blooded American values that parents should be teaching their kids at home. I feel, in answering your question, I use my own experience in answering the question: that’s one of the reasons I felt very strongly that I would take the bull by the horns in the city schools and use my school as a pilot school and then branch out from there to reach other schools that were kids with inner city schools in Pittsburgh. I think for the kids we really need to instill all of the basic values that are just common to every man. It’s not Ken Barbour’s values and they are not John’s values. It’s what will get us through life. And I really believe it should take place in a family structure. I think nowadays that a lot of parents are at their work. Parents are not able to spend as much time with their families, as my parents were years ago. I think that’s a problem. So therefore, kids for the most part, they’re not getting the values impartation. They’re losing that family structure.

JS: Well, you’re doing what you can do. One life at a time, one opportunity, one situation at a time.

KB: Yes. Because when I was at Manchester School, I worked with Will Tompkins. We had a manhood training class for my elementary boys. It was only for African American kids, of course. I remember some of our Caucasian kids saying, “Why can’t we be a part of that?” There was like, discrimination going on. (laughing)

JS: (laughing)

KB: (laughing) No, we did that for a purpose because we wanted our African American boys to grow up and assume their rightful leadership, first of all as a man. And assume their responsibilities as a man.

JS: Looking back now, and it’s probably hard to single out any one or two things. But, what do you look back as your greatest single achievement or your accomplishment. What would you pull out of the pile out of all that you’ve done and say, this one thing may be at the top, or near the top of the list?

KB: Wow. I don’t know. There are a lot of things that I am so thankful for, that I think were really, really great. But, I think one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve had is that I proved to myself that there isn’t anything you can’t do. And I think it was the opening of the Westside-Broadhead Academy. And John, if you read the history that preceded all of that, it was complete turmoil regarding the reopening of that school. It was like, doom and gloom that it’s not going to happen. And to me, it wasn’t a paycheck that meant so much because I was getting paid regardless. I saw that as a reward of my profession. I was able to touch lives, and not only just kids but a community of people. My wife used to say to me, “Ken, you can’t go down there at night. You’ll never come back alive.” I said, “Don’t worry about it, they know me. We’re best friends.” I think that’s one of the things in my professional career that I see as a great accomplishment.

JS: What church do you go to now?

KB: I belong to the Christian Tabernacle, that’s my membership, over on Center Avenue. But, I live in Bethel Park, and I’m the principal of the Hillcrest Christian Academy, which is owned and operated by the South Hills Assembly. So therefore, by virtue of the fact that I’m principal at the school and that I’m on the church’s payroll, I’m considered one of their associate pastors. So I have been attending the South Hills Assembly. I still belong to Christian Tabernacle. I’m there every Wednesday night for Bible school.

JS: I know your parents obviously have a major influence in your life. But, any other historical figures, any mentors, anybody who really left a deep imprint and impression on your life.

KB: Well, actually there was one gentlemen who is deceased now. He was a deacon at the First Baptist Church in McDonald. And he was a gentleman who worked in our town. He was a shoe repairman. I began working for him when I was about ten years old, just shining shoes. He was a born-again believer. When I wasn’t shining shoes, he’d make me learn the books of the Bible. And after I learned the books of the Bible, I had to memorize and quote scripture. And I thought, “This guys getting crazy.” But he followed me all through life, and encouraged me so much. And he was such a blessing to me. But he’s gone to be with the Lord.

JS: How about a passage or a verse? Anything that comes back to you again and again?

KB: Seek ye first…

JS: Matthew 6:33.

KB: Yeah. 6:33. “Seek ye first, the Kingdom of God and all His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” That’s one of my favorites.

JS: Have you ever been a pastor? Were you ever asked to pastor?

KB: Yes, yes, I did. Actually, when we were not able to go to the mission field back in ‘59. We were not able to leave for Africa. The Christian Tabernacle is a missionary minded church. They have a foreign mission field, but also they have home mission churches here in the states. And so they had a home mission church in Aliquippa called Christian Lighthouse. So when we were not able, when the Lord closed the door to go into the foreign field, we accepted a home mission assignment. And the home mission assignment was at their home mission church in Aliquippa, called Christian Lighthouse Church. And I was pastor at that church for about eighteen years there in Aliquippa. Then I moved to Pittsburgh, when that pastor passed away, and I was pastor at Christian Tabernacle for fifteen years. I stepped down a few years ago.

JS: Well, DR. Barbour, it’s a travesty that we’re only interviewing for 30 minutes.

KB: I know! (laughing)

JS: We could do two books! And we’ll do it again. And we certainly want to keep our Urban Heroes readers and listeners up to date on things that continue to happen in your life, because we know you have goals and you’re going to continue to be productive. But as we wrap up, what words of advice would you have for someone now who’s reading this or listening to this and they’re saying how can I make a difference, or can I make a difference, or how can I make the greatest impact, or things are spinning beyond control, I don’t think I can. What words of advice would you give to someone?

KB: John, first of all, believe in yourself. And, accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord and Savior. And know that he is in full control of your life, in everything that you do. The Word says that the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord. My advice would be to believe in yourself and allow God to order your steps.

JS: And everything else will take care of itself.

KB: That’s my success. God has been so faithful.

JS: Well, we mentioned before about prophecy and maybe teaching that one day. Any other future goals? Anything, still yet, on the horizon? Writing? Or a book?

KB: Yes, John. I’d like to write a book about my life. I coauthored a book with Tim Rusnik down at Duquesne University. That goes back to the character education, when I was working in the city with the character education program. I co-authored a book with Tim Rusnik, so that gave me some editing skills, to see what it’s like. Then I wrote my dissertation at Pitt, naturally. But I’d like to settle down someday and write a book and then also take all my sermons and put them into a book to give to someone, just to pass along to someone. I just feel that I was blessed when I prepared the messages, and I believe God will get the glory. And I’d like to pass that on.

JS: Well, Dr. Barbour, thank you for being so generous with your time. And thank you for consenting to be a part of the Urban Heroes program. You would be the epitome of what we are trying to put forward. Someone who has served the Lord and served the community, faithfully, day in and day out. You have done that, on behalf of us at CUBM, and anyone else that we may speak for, thank you for what you’ve done and we pray that God will grant you the desires of your heart in these latter years, and that they’ll be even more fruitful, if that’s possible.

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