Peter Jenkins returns to town to raise money for students living in Texana
By STACY GREEN (Cherokee Scout)
Murphy – Finishing his latest trip through the Mississippi Delta in his 1957 Chevrolet station wagon, New York Times best-selling author Peter Jenkins will make his way through Murphy for a fund-raising event at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21, at the Henn Theatre downtown.
Traveling back to the place that changed his life more than 30 years ago, Jenkins will be speaking in town to help start a scholarship fund for Texana students who would like to attend The Learning Center charter school.
“Murphy is a creative place, with a more open-minded and friendly persona,” Jenkins said as he remembered his time and adventures in the area. Texana family takes him in
Rumored as a “drug-carrying Yankee,” many people in the area were wary of the newcomer in town looking for work. The first night in Murphy, Jenkins was welcomed by a group of black men playing basketball at Konehete Park, according to his narrative novel A Walk Across America.
Jenkins was invited to stay in Texana with Zach, Eric and Bruce Oliver along with their mother, Mary Elizabeth Lloyd. Jenkins said the story of his adventure in Murphy has struck a positive note worldwide.
“A lot of radical things happened in Murphy to change my life forever, but the story of a poor black family taking in a 22-year-old Northern white boy has made a huge, positive impact on the world.”
Jenkins found work at a saw mill on Joe Brown Highway. He lived with the Oliver family for five months.
During his stay, Jenkins attended Mount Zion Baptist Church in Texana with the family and learned a lot about God and faith.
“I became much closer to God. By going to Mount Zion, I realized God was real,” he said. “I attended a Presbyterian church where I grew up just outside of New York City, and that was very quiet. At [Mount Zion], older people were even getting up and praising the Lord.”
Jenkins said Lloyd made him sit on the front pew, and black gospel music had a large impact on his life.
“If I’m feeling down, I will turn on black gospel,” Jenkins said.
“My journey through the Mississippi Delta, where black gospel was born, has been inspiring.”
Jenkins said after the tornado that blew through the area in 1974, Mount Zion Church helped a predominantly white church by raising money.
“I thought it was amazing how these people came together to help each other. The area has had a profound impact on me and still does,” he said.
In August 2009, Lloyd passed away from cancer. Jenkins attended her funeral and was placed in the obituary as one of her sons.
“They are my family. We have attended each other’s kids’ weddings, graduations and funerals,” Jenkins said.
Country boy at heart
Growing up in the North, Jenkins was never really around people who hunted, fished or grew their food.
Jenkins said coming to the Murphy area changed his perspective on how people lived.
“People should go back to eating good food. The people in the South have fresh water and their own food,” Jenkins said. “Cooking on a wood stove and eating healthy is what I strive for.”
The Winkler family, who lived down the road from the Oliver’s on Joe Brown Highway, also had a large impact on Jenkins.
“Mr. Winkler would offer me rides to work when he would see me out,” Jenkins said. “Ms. Winkler was an amazing cook and canned her own food – that’s the way people lived back then.”
Jenkins said he isn’t the type of person who is outgoing, and getting out of his element helped him to meet people, relax and let things happen.
Cooper, Jenkins’ large malamute dog, was an unforgettable character in the book.
Walking across America with Jenkins, Cooper was a pet like no other that Jenkins has ever had.
“Cooper and I were like Ying and Yang or the old saying ‘attached at the hip,’” Jenkins said. “I am amazed he did so well. I never had him on a leash the entire trip. Everybody loves him.”
Jenkin’s said students across America – including eighth-graders at The Learning Center – are reading his book for required reading.
“That is the true power of the written word. Students are reading this book and imagining it as if it happened yesterday.” Jenkins said.
Students are learning that travel is an easy way to learn by experience. Jenkins attended Alfred University to study art and has learned over years of traveling how to be an accomplished writer.
“I usually have a rough journal on my trips and take a lot of pictures, I have a photographic memory, so one picture can bring back memories of the time,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins added that he has a writing style similar to the Southern story-telling tradition. This style is not like fiction, as the characters are carried through the travel.
Jenkins said his oldest son, Jedidiah, director of idea development for Invisible Children, announced a year ago that he would like to follow in his father’s footsteps and travel from Oregon to the tip of Chile on his bicycle.
“With a father like me, I can’t tell him not to do it,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has left a legacy all over the United States, publishing seven books that all became New York Times best-sellers and has inspired many to follow him.
“I am excited to come over to Murphy. It’s for a good cause with really dedicated people trying to make a difference,” Jenkins said.
“Being open to life and not being afraid of the world is really imperative. Instead of being afraid people should say ‘wow, this will be an adventure.’ They need to branch out, and know we’re all in this together.”
Tickets for the event can be purchased through the charter school’s office by calling 835-7240, its Web site – www.naturallygrownkids.org, or The Curiosity Shoppe bookstore in downtown Murphy.
Ticket are $7 for students under 18, $15 for adults and $35 VIP tickets, which include preferred seating and wine and hors d’oeuvre. Food will be catered by ShoeBooties Cafe and The Daily Grind & Wine.
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