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A Rainbow in the Dark

My friends Wade McCoy and Henry Kirkland are featured in an article in today’s Oklahoman. I have told this story around the world in my speech on the Power of Personal Influence. Read the article, buy the book and be inspired to change the world!

A Rainbow in the Dark featured in The Daily Oklahoman 1-29-12

Article by Carla Hinton

Friendship between students and professor results in compelling book

— The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A black teenager left to fend for himself in a small rural Oklahoma town in the 1940s.

A white drugstore owner whose belief in the young boy transcends race and the rigid social mores of the day.

This scenario inspired the fictionalized version in the novel “A Rainbow in the Dark,” written by two Oklahoma men, Dr. Wade McCoy and Patrick Chalfant.

The novel is based on the real-life story of the authors’ former college professor, Henry “Kirk” Kirkland, Ph.D.

McCoy, who practices family medicine in Bethany, said Kirkland taught him and Chalfant when they were students at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Both authors, who are white, said Kirkland, who is black, inspired each of them during their time at Southwestern, along with thousands of other students at the Weatherford university.

McCoy, 46, said he found out about Kirkland’s inspiring life story during their many conversations throughout the years.

And, in an unexpected twist, McCoy discovered through genealogy research that one of his ancestors, a slave owner at one time, and one of Kirkland’s relatives, a former slave, lived in the same Alabama county during the same time period.

McCoy said this discovery, his enduring friendship with Kirkland, and Kirkland’s friendship with a white drugstore owner, reminded him of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hope that people, regardless of their race and background, could connect through bonds of friendship and love. King made the statement in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

“It’s such a legacy to Dr. King. It really is about content of character,” McCoy said.

Chalfant agreed.

“The things that I’ve learned from him (Kirkland) are very essential to Dr. King’s message.”

Kirkland said the genealogy discovery made by his former student convinced him that divine intervention was at play.

“That’s why I think there’s a higher power that is handling all of this,” he said, smiling.

McCoy smiled, too.

“So we stumbled upon each other in Weatherford more than 100 years later. The story is bigger than us. It’s about love and grace.”

“Many of us owe our success to Kirk. We are grateful he got up every morning and ran those rail tracks in the cold, rain or the snow.” — Afterword by Dr. Wade McCoy, “A Rainbow in the Dark.”

McCoy said he was fascinated with Kirkland’s childhood history and he knew that it would make it good book.

He said Chalfant, a Tulsa author who had graduated from Southwestern after he had and asked Chalfant if he wanted to help write the story.

Chalfant, 41, said he also was intrigued by Kirkland’s story so they all met together to talk one day.

By their next meeting, the three were ready to take a trip to Atoka, where Kirkland pointed out things and places that were central to his years growing up in the rural town.

“That day, the book just really unfolded,” McCoy said.

Kirkland, 77, said he grew up in Atoka but parted ways with his family when his father and mother moved to Langston, where his father had obtained a job teaching masonry skills. Kirkland said he begged his mother to let him stay behind at the family’s tiny home. He said he argued that the school he attended, Dunbar High, was across the street and he had a job delivering newspapers.

Kirkland said his mother relented, and he began living on his own at age 13.

He said he was offered a job at the local drugstore owned by a man named F.K. “Skeet” Carney, and he continued to deliver newspapers. Kirkland said though it was hard work — he had to run along the railroad tracks several miles to work — he never missed a day of school, was class valedictorian and also had a successful basketball career in high school.

McCoy and Chalfant said they listened as Kirkland told them about growing up as a young black teen at a time when segregation was the norm. How Skeet Carney raised the ire of some white townspeople who thought he should have given the drugstore job to a white teen instead of Kirkland. How Kirkland would pick up his dinner of chili and crackers by walking through a back alley to the back of a local diner because he wasn’t allowed in the front dining area and how he often purchased treats at a local ice cream parlor, but he couldn’t eat them inside the establishment.

Chalfant said Kirkland recounted a part of history that he had heard about, but never from someone that he knew personally.

“It certainly opened my eyes going back in time with Dr. Kirkland,” he said. “What was it like as a black man to work at that time? It was like being in a time machine.”

McCoy said throughout Kirkland’s story, he heard over and over again the phrase “That’s just the way things were,” and he was disappointed to hear about the different aspects of society that were unfair to blacks at that time.

“Unless you were black and had to feel it, you didn’t get how it really was,” he said. “It’s a blot on our history.”

Yet, despite those glimpses into a time when much of America was racially divided, many times literally by railroad tracks, McCoy and Chalfant found that Kirkland’s story was full of hope.

McCoy said Kirkland’s perseverance was key. So was his friendship with drugstore owner Carney who eventually became his mentor and a benefactor. It was Carney, who often attended Kirkland’s high school basketball games, who urged Kirkland to head to Langston after high school graduation.

“He told me ‘You need to get out of here and get an education,’” Kirkland said.

Kirkland said he earned scholarships and joined the Army Reserve to make some money, but Carney helped pay for some of his schooling and it was Carney who urged him to get his master’s degree and then his doctorate.

Kirkland went on to become the first black teacher at El Reno High School and the first black professor at Southwestern and McCoy said he and countless other students are glad of it.

And Carney’s mentorship rubbed off on Kirkland.

McCoy said Kirkland became his mentor and helped steer him into his career as a medical doctor.

“I really had a strong feeling of indebtedness to Dr. Kirkland. I felt like I wouldn’t be where I was without him,” McCoy said.

Kirkland said he was delighted when McCoy took such an interest in his story and he is excited about the book based on his life.

“I just think it’s great,” he said.




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