This past July, I went down to Duval (Jacksonville, FL for those unfamiliar with its more colloquial name) and spent quality time with some of my biggest mentors. Read on to learn a bit on these amazing people and their impact on my life so far.
Major Kenneth Devoe
My first experiences with Major Devoe were in my junior year of high school. A lot of my friends were in the ROTC chapter so I would often visit the portable classrooms and hang out with them. Major was usually working on paperwork or headed to meetings but he’d always be so welcoming despite me not actually being a member of the battalion. That’s just his personality — mannerly, exuberant, and so engaged in anything you could possibly ever talk about.
Towards the height of junior year, he became one of my lifetime mentors and still is to this day. I actually remember the exact moment: He was kindly asking me how the year was going for me, at a time I was transitioning into living on my own and still trying to balance my academics and social life. I was staying with my grandparents, but we weren’t as close back then as we are now, and my mom and sister were moving back to NYC to pursue life with my stepdad. They wanted me to graduate without having to switch schools for the thousandth time and I understood, but it was still visibly difficult in the first few months and Major could see it. I was a student leader and executive board member of various organizations, but for the first time in years I was actually so unconfident in myself because I felt like I had lost a part of my support system. I will never forget what Major told me that day: “Speak with the confidence as though you’ve already spoken, do as though it [what you plan to do] has already been done.” He told me the phrase came, not verbatim, from Scripture; so being my curious self, I searched for it, and found the passage Romans 4:17.
As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
– Romans 4:17, New International Version
Major was also a huge proponent of how I learned to carry myself in the times that followed. He definitely taught me to see things less from an “It’s expected of me” approach to an “I can and I will” approach.
At cadet ball, my date and I sat at Major’s table with fellow officers, and they taught me to eat bread in pieces, not clumps. I started dressing up everyday in button downs and skirts, valuing a presentable appearance, to put my best foot forward from the beginning of the day to the end. If I was frustrated with a problem, Major would take time to give me words of encouragement.After school hours when I was waiting for a ride home, I would draw signs to decorate the ROTC classroom with to help keep morale strong. I’d help advise younger cadets if they needed it. I played lacrosse, ran student government, and had chorus practices, but nothing ever truly came between my relationship with my ROTC family.
It came to a point where even when the battalion commander asked me to prom, the entire chapter was in on it. To have such a loving community put this all together really solidified my respect for Major, because as a teacher and adult figure, he represented a leadership of love that I had never truly known before.
By the end of senior year, I backslid often and did a ton of wild things most people wouldn’t know. I struggled even harder to find myself. But I also had the best year of my high school life, and it’s because I knew I could always get right back up again when I needed to; something I don’t think I would have understood half as well if Major weren’t there to remind me.
We met up recently at BJ’s Brewhouse. There’s so much I could say about my talks with Major but I’ll just highlight a few of the most memorable points from our last conversation.
- Don’t see kindness as defeat, and don’t let pride become victory.
I had promised that when I returned to Jax, I would treat Major out to lunch or dinner as a token of gratitude but he ended up paying the bill instead — at first, I was admittedly argumentative about it because NY has taught me to be extremely self-sufficient. But he reassured me that it was his treat out of respect for me as both a student and a lady, and if I wanted to pay for myself I could. I felt like I was taking an L at first, but then I realized this wasn’t a win-lose situation…it was simply an exchange of gratitude.
2. “No one ever really loses friends — you just lose touch.”
We’re all just separated by distance. I have lost a lot of friends over the years due to falling out and following different paths in life, but I like to believe Major is right in saying that some of these connections I made in high school could still be relevant in my adult life. In fact, I’ve made it a habit in the past year to make an active effort to reach out to people I used to be close with, just to catch up every now and then; the feedback I’ve gotten has made me realize how easy it is to get caught up in our own lives that we can actually fool ourselves into thinking no one cares about us. The reality is we all need a little check-in from time to time.
3. Embrace your thinking process.
There are people who speak fast to get their thoughts out, and then there are people who need a minute to gather their thoughts. The former tends to end conversation sooner than they hope, and the latter is more like a ball rolling, gaining momentum the more time goes on. I tend to fall on both sides of the spectrum, and am still learning to control it.
4. You don’t need routine to know yourself, and you don’t need to go to church every week to know God.
In a moment of vulnerability, I opened up about a falling out with my church that my family endured this past year. It really broke my faith down after I had spent most of my young adult life building it up, and I still haven’t quite recovered completely. I’d grown to feel ashamed when I passed by the church or spoke with friends I made through there, because it was hard to not feel so confused at how a loving God could let His people be so unloving towards my family. I felt betrayed. I felt lost.
In return, Major shared with me a story about when he was stationed overseas in Germany, and how there was a chapel that was only open twice a year: Christmas and Easter. He told me that it was difficult not having a nurturing environment for his faith over such a long period of time, but he took to reading Scripture on his own to find answers. “It was in that time of self study,” he says, “that I learned more about God than I ever did back home on a Sunday.”
I know it’s been a long time since I’ve needed to write this post, but I hope now it’s evident how much I’ve been wanting to say.
Thank you, Major. Keep doing what you do!
Readers — Do you have a Hometown Hero? Comment below so we can talk about them.