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Last updated: Sun. Aug. 17, 2014 - 09:02 am EDT

Local pastor confronts past

Hopes openness about suffering helps black community

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The Rev. Bill McGill was just a helpless child, he said, when he experienced terror at the hands of someone who should have been there to protect him.

He’s built an impressive list of accomplishments through the decades and become well-known in Fort Wayne, but he’s never escaped the trauma he was subjected to as a 10-year-old boy, he said, when his aunt molested him.

Now nearly 58 years old, McGill, pastor at Imani Baptist Temple, remembers everything he wishes he didn’t about the spring of 1966: The exact location of the house and description of her house. That she was pregnant. That she was working as a nurse.

“I remember very vividly which house,” he said.

Despite what he says is a tendency in the black community to keep problems under wraps and not talk about problems, he confronted that aunt 10 years later and got pretty much the response he figured he would.

“It was an anticipated and expected denial,” McGill said, “but I stood my ground.”

The confrontation also brought out divisions in his family, with some supportive of his actions and claims and others who didn’t want anything to do with it.

The reason McGill was willing to detail what he endured in the paragraphs to follow and how it affected him is because he doesn’t want others to live in silent suffering, especially in light of the suicide of one of the world’s great comedic performers, Robin Williams.

“I know that individuals suffer in silence,” he said.

Breaking that silence, talking to a trained professional or extending a helping hand to someone in need are points in an op-ed piece he penned for The Journal Gazette, which can be found in today’s Perspective section on Page 12A.

From McGill’s humble beginnings in Cleveland to his position as an accomplished minister who has dined with a president at the White House, the dark times from his childhood were always in the back of his mind.

“I still remember saying, ‘It’s a long way from Quimby Avenue … to the White House,’ ” McGill said of the experience when he got to have breakfast with President Bill Clinton and several other clergy members.

At the time, McGill shared some of his story but was too timid to be truly open, something that changed since he embraced the assistance of a therapist, although finding someone he could relate to, including race and much more, was tough.

He’s mentioned his experience at times during sermons or speeches and is surprised he hasn’t put it in writing for any other newspaper submissions.

Despite his willingness to share so that others may overcome their pasts, he understands why so many people who need services are unsuccessful in getting help and continue coping on their own.

“You continue to grow, but yet there are parts of you that have glow,” he said in his patented rhyming method.

A perfect example of how past experiences can rear their heads and snuff out that glow years later manifested for McGill in 2002 after he saw the movie “Antwone Fisher,” the story of a young black man who must confront a history of abuse through therapy.

When McGill saw that movie in the theater, it had been 36 years since those dark moments in Cleveland as a child, yet he found himself overcome with emotion in his car after the show as his head filled with questions.

“At that moment, that 10-year-old boy revisits me and I’m wondering, ‘Why me? Why not someone else? Why an aunt and a protector?’ ” he said.

With his own experiences as a springboard, he feels society needs to let people feel comfortable to be open about life’s experiences.

“Some of us have visible scars and some of us have emotional scars. You have to have a way to manage the damage,” McGill said.

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