Sins of the fathers, hopes of the sons

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Meadows Livingstone School is the only private Afrocentric elementary school in San Francisco following the city’s closure of Pan African schools in the ‘70s and ‘80s as part of the country’s ongoing destruction of Black communities. Black-centered and conscious education is crucial for our kids to grow up healthy and self-loving. One parent says that MLS “changed my daughter’s life. She didn’t like bein’ Black till she came here. When she left here, she was proud to be who she was.” – Photo: Meadows Livingstone School

by Shedrick Pharaoh Ferguson III

My name is Shedrick Pharaoh Ferguson, III. I was born in 1968, a year when men and women were proud to be Black; say it loud: I’m Black and I’m proud. 

My mother was a nurse and my dad worked at the post office. I do not remember much growing up, with the exception of two incidents that impacted me forever. I remember my dad passing me some weed he called “Woo Woo.” 

I took a puff and coughed up a lung at the tender age of four. I wish I could have stayed the 4-year-old who did not want “Woo Woo” anymore. 

The other incident happened after we moved to Lakeview. I was 5 years old. I told my mother what my uncle had done to me, and she did not believe me. That emotional trauma began and continued long into my adulthood, showing up as me not being able to ask for help, even in life and death situations. I needed to prove to myself that no one could ever hurt me again.

I went to all-Black Pan African schools from kindergarten through second grade and was given a Swahili name, Kharri, which means “king.” We would recite every country on the African continent and pledge allegiance to the flag. The colors, red, black and green; red for blood that they spilled, black for our skin and green for the land they stole from us. 

Around this time the government had started closing down Pan African schools, and the Black Panthers were disappearing. So here I was, a young, Black militant, hearing about my people in Africa getting their arms cut off for stealing, not being able to see their families for 50 weeks out the year and working in smoldering heat in diamond mines stolen by whites, the blue-eyed devils. 

By the third grade there were no Pan African schools in San Francisco. In the hopes of keeping my younger sister and I with Black classmates and getting a quality education, we went to Saint Dominic’s, a Catholic school operated by white priests and nuns. 

This was the year my trauma started showing up for me, with the trigger being the white devils were teaching me now. I started being the class clown, having an identity crisis, along with insecurities and shattered self-esteem. 

That affected my social development and sense of purpose. The following year my sister and I attended Saint Emydius. My pain and hurt from the trauma turned into rebellion. 

I never truly felt loved.

By the fifth grade I had transitioned to public schools. In the sixth grade I excelled academically at Aptos Middle School. One day after school my friends and I were playing pinball on Ocean Avenue when this guy asked me if he could play. 

I felt honored and gave him my quarter because this was no ordinary guy, this was Red. The kids in my school were afraid of him because he broke into homes near our school, carried a knife and sold weed at the park. He was a thug! 

His recognition of me that day raised my respect amongst my friends. And, at that moment, I wanted what he had: people to fear me, which meant they would respect me, or so I thought. Soon after, I started cutting class, to boost clothes to fit in, pitching quarters at lunch, or stealing gum at 7-Eleven to sell.

In the eighth grade, in hopes of getting back on track, my parents sent me to another Pan African school where I met my new found friend Nick. We started drinking and smoking weed. I would creep up to the office while the staff and students were pledging their allegiance to the Pan African flag. 

I would be upstairs stealing from the tuition box, anywhere between $200 and $600. I did that about 10 times. These early years were spent thieving – where was my Black pride then?

I would pick Nick up at his house across the street from the Westside projects and we would go play Ms. Pac-Man instead of going to school. Nick would always ask me where I got all that money from. I’d lie, although after we got tight, I told him the truth. 

One day, we decided to go to the movies to check out “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” – granted, I could not stand horror movies then or now. I gave Nick the money to buy a 40-ounce Old English and some gold weed. 

All I can remember from that day is laughing when the people were getting slashed up, going to the bathroom, then McDonald’s and waking up at home: my first blackout.

The following year, my parents decided to send me to Riordan High School. I thought I was pretty smart from going to so many different Catholic and private schools, yet Riordan was on a different level. 

I started that school year late because of Camp Mendocino and never could catch up. I did one semester and flunked out of Riordan, at a cost of $1,500 to my parents.

When my father and mother finally received my report card because I had burned the original one, my dad was furious. He had a fifth grade education and wanted me to be smarter than he was. He asked me what happened five times, how could you flunk? 

With tears in my eyes, I yelled, “The work was too hard,” and turned away from him. I remember vividly, him with a Fruit Bowl Soda bottle in his hands, me getting angry because I really had tried my hardest, and then him throwing that bottle at me, hitting me in the middle of my spine. 

He said, “If you don’t give a f***, then I don’t give a f***.” Things changed for the worst that day. My dad and I had an estranged relationship. I never truly felt loved. 

My dad started basing when I was 12, and by the time I turned 17 it got bad. One day, we were arguing, and he hit me in the face with a baseball bat. I vowed to love and nurture my children if I ever became a parent. 

My first child was born in 1995. My second son was born in 2012, and I have shared joint custody since he was 2 years old. 

My childhood trauma made it difficult for me to trust people. I started using crack at 16 with my so-called friends. I always received the short end of the stick or the proverbial knife in the back. 

“You won’t be there for me like I would for you.” 

Eventually, I became involved in the criminal justice system due to my anger issues, drug use and poor decision making. I even tried to commit suicide. My first case was a sale to the police, next an assault on the police and then a domestic violence case. 

By that time, I had already started snorting heroin at age 21 with my old friend Nick. I was lucky to have not gone to the penitentiary, only the county jail.

This was 1996, and my son was one year old, and I needed to get into a program because of the domestic violence case. I met Cregg Johnson, who gave me a referral to Redwood Center, a 90-day program. 

He visited me at Redwood and convinced me to stay after a clash with one of the counselors who took my picture of my son, who at that time was my higher power. I stayed sober for 17 months that time. Walden House in 1999 was my second try at recovery. I was leaning on my own understanding. I got violated for not finishing my domestic violence classes. 

I had so much anger and was very judgmental, a pure pessimist. I attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and The Gathering, a Positive Directions support group. 

The meetings were a place to hear how bad people were doing to make me feel that my life was not that bad. I would listen for what people did wrong, never for their accomplishments. 

I became sober in 2003, and a member of Positive Directions Equals Change in 2005, after serving as an Intern. The reason I came back to Positive Directions was because it took me back to my childhood – Black people helping their own. 

The focus made me stronger and helped give me greater insight by it being a process group. The truth hurts, yet it can also set you free, if you let it.  

I started therapy in 2005 to deal with my childhood trauma at the suggestion of Cregg Johnson. It was a great help and a sounding board on my view of the world and how I saw myself. 

Through therapy and Positive Directions, I recognized my challenges and strengths. It took me 10 years of sobriety to evolve into an optimist and stop being so judgmental of self and others. And, I also found even if you worked on something you can be retraumatized. 

Shedrick-Pharaoh-Ferguson-III-Positive-Directions-Equals-Change, Sins of the fathers, hopes of the sons, Culture Currents Local News & Views News & Views
Shedrick Pharaoh Ferguson III journeyed from a youth of Black cultural values and militancy to trauma and addiction, coming to the other side immersed in Black pride, recovery and healing.

I had a transformative experience while parasailing over the ocean, granted, I’m afraid of heights. I saw a storm coming. I thought I might die. My thoughts were racing and I felt tremendous fear of the unknown. 

In the near distance, staring at the dark stormy clouds and lightning, God whispered to me, “There are angels in this world. Yes, they are human. You can trust in Cregg, Ulysses and Positive Directions members.” In a split second a ray of sunshine pierced through the clouds, and I had no fear. I bellowed out a rebel yell, “Yeeeeee-hawwwwww!”

My great uncle introduced me to plumbing right after I got out of jail. He only paid me $5 an hour. I was still selling and using drugs. Back then, I did not recognize plumbing as a great profession. However, with the support of Positive Directions, I obtained my contractor’s license in 2010, with the goal of helping other young Black men become plumbers. 

I also have worked in the recovery field as a peer counselor, domestic violence facilitator and a case manager at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

My dad had stage four lung cancer and only had three months to live. He had stopped using drugs in 2001 and hit the ground running, starting his own business after going to the penitentiary for the first time. 

When my youngest child was seven months old, I had to choose: get closure with my dad or stay with my son and his mother. My dad only told me he loved me five times in my life. When I would tell him, “I love you daddy,” he would say, “I know you do son.” 

Even though we both were sober and doing father and son things together, like going to the movies, having lunch and even working out at the gym, he would tell me: “You won’t be there for me like I would for you.” 

In his final days, we were at Lake Merced and we apologized to each other for the pain we caused each other. When we were having lunch at the Crepevine, my father had on his oxygen tube, waiting for our food to come. He put his hands over mine and said: “Son, I never thought you would be here for me the way that you have. Thank you.” 

I started using drugs at an early age, so emotionally I was 15 years old in the body of a 35-year-old man when I started my recovery journey. I never thought I would be a single parent, licensed plumbing contractor, and have traveled abroad to Asia, Brazil and the Dominican Republic by myself. 

Life has a way of surprising us all. Positive Directions Equals Change saved my life. I will be celebrating 20 years of sobriety next year, God willing. Through all my ups and downs, my judgments, my shortcomings and my imperfections, I was never judged by anyone other than myself. 

They truly are my family and never gave up on me. I have learned so much through our men’s and women’s support groups over the years. 

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at 415-401-0199 or email our team at