BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Floyd Flake, author of "The Way of the Bootstrapper: Nine Action
Steps for Achieving Your Dreams," how did you get Bill Bennett and
Maxine Waters both to endorse your book?
Reverend FLOYD FLAKE, AUTHOR, "THE WAY OF THE BOOTSTRAPPER": Well,
actually, my relationship to Bill Bennett goes way back when I was the
dean at Boston University and Bill Bennett was there as assistant to
the president. We worked together. So our relationship actually
transcends politics. And when I asked him to do it, he said he would
review it. He did. He felt that the book--some portions of it he
didn't agree with but that overall, he thought it was a great book.
Maxine the same way. I mean, we served together for 11 years in the
House of Representatives, so we have a good relationship, close
relationship. And I felt also that it, in many ways, reflects my
overall political ideology, and that is kind of at the center where I
deal with people as opposed to just being an ideologue one way or the
other. So if you get people who are about 180 degrees apart on the
cover of your book, it means that this is not just something that you
do on a haphazard basis, but you actually believe in people
relationships, regardless of their ideology.
LAMB: How did you get George Will and Bob Johnson of Black
Entertainment Television both to endorse your book?
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. Well, George Will called me one day and ha--had
heard about all of the things we were doing in the church and in the
ministry and asked if he could come and visit. So we had him to come.
He came to the school and saw what we were doing with the kids, saw
what we'd done to revitalize the community, felt it was a great thing
and wrote an editorial on it, and so I thought that was great. And
Bob Johnson and I have had a great relationship. We frequently sit
and eat together and talk about futuristic ideas, and when I was in
Congress, kind of shared a lot of ideas with him about what I wanted
to do, and even when I left, he was one of the persons I sat and
talked with. So we've had that kind of relationship over the years.
LAMB: How many years were you in Congress?
Rev. FLAKE: Eleven years, served from 1986 until the end of '97, and
when I ran for office, I told the constituents that I'd serve from 10
to 12 years, and so left at the end of 11, so that's about as close to
a promise as you can keep.
LAMB: Did you leave midyear?
Rev. FLAKE: I left midterm, yeah, and a--at the last--because I had
just finished--we'd just finished building a $23 million church, and
it was growing so fast that I never had established a residence here
in Washington. I traveled--each night, I commuted to New York back
and forth. So I just reached that point where the responsibilities
there had become so great, I couldn't do both, and since I was called
into the ministry at 15 and pastoring since 19, that's obviously my
first love, and I made the decision to go home and minister at the
LAMB: This will take about a minute, but I want to read you something
said by four people in your book.
Rev. FLAKE: OK.
LAMB: First by you. You said, `Bootstrappers can articulate with
great substance and eloquence of speech, but if given the choice, they
would prefer to walk the walk rather than merely talk the talk.'
Rev. FLAKE: Right.
LAMB: Bill Bennett writes--if I can find it here. I underlined it.
`Floyd Flake is a man who wal--who walks it like he talks it.' Maxine
Waters wrote, if I can find her, `He does not simply talk the talk.
He, indeed, walks the walk.' And then earlier in an endorsement, Bob
Johnson writes, `Floyd Flake doesn't just talk the talk. He walks the
Rev. FLAKE: Oh.
LAMB: What's that mean?
Rev. FLAKE: That's interesting.
LAMB: Wh--what's it mean?
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. Well, what it means essentially is that, as you
know, most people are given to a great deal of verbiage. I mean,
there's a lot of talk about what needs to be done, what we ought to be
doing, how we solve problems and issues and so forth. I think what
they're saying, in essence, is that the model that I've created, both
in terms of my own personal life as one growing up in a family of 13
and fifth in a--sixth-grade-educated parents, a reality of what I've
had to do to work my way through school and work my way into the
various situations that mark a level of success. I think that's one
I think the other category is what I've tried to do in terms of
changing the whole scope of ministry in an urban community from one of
just a Sunday morning worship experience to one where we, in fact,
build homes and sell them to first-time home buyers. We, in fact,
built a school so I'm not--when I talk about educational issues, it is
not just rhetoric. It is reality of what we've been able to do in
transforming the lives of kids from communities where they say they
can't--they can't learn. And when you look at the overall level of
programs that we have--psychiatric services to medical services
to--you name it--WIC programs and so forth--I think what they're
saying, in essence, is that rather than just talking about it, I've
tried to be that person who rolls up ones--my sleeves and become a
real a bootstrapper and make things happen so that when people argue
with me about things, I don't have to just lean on the rhetoric of it,
but I can actually show them practical realities that, in fact, this
LAMB: Exactly where is the church?
Rev. FLAKE: My church is in Jamaica, Queens. It is in--about seven
minutes from Kennedy Airport and within about 20 minutes from La
Guardia and sits in an area called St. Albans, which has historically
been one of those communities that was for upward mobile people. It's
a pretty middle-class community. Yet many of the amenities and
services, quality of education, not nearly what it ought to be. And
that's what we focused on, and--and it's been a very successful
ministry for the last 23 years.
LAMB: You have how many seats in your church?
Rev. FLAKE: Twenty-five hundred, 2,500 seats in the church, and we
run three services a Sunday there: 6:30 in the morning, 8:30, 11:15.
I'm at all three services, and I preach two of them. And then I run
another service for young people where we have 1,500 kids, 700 a week
or so attending. And that's run at the same time as the 11:15 service
in the old church building.
LAMB: How many churches in America have 2,500 seats in them?
Rev. FLAKE: Oh, I would think--oh, I would not have any idea, but
LAMB: A lot?
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. I--not a whole lot. I think that's a pretty big
number, but there are some bigger. I was in one last week over in
Atlanta s--that has 7,500, so there's some big churches out there.
LAMB: You say in your book you write all your own sermons.
Rev. FLAKE: I write every sermon. Every week, I write two sermons,
and I write them from start--from scratch, and I do that because I
don't take the old material and just rehash it. I think--I think
people get to a point where old sermons are pretty much like
leftovers. They don't want to hear the same stuff over and over. And
I think, as you know, if you make a choice of a fine restaurant where
you go and eat, you go and eat there because you know there's a
quality to the food and a quality that you can expect to be
consistent. What I try to do is give people a quality, consistent
message and a new message, a fresh message, and feed them a new word
every week, and it pays off.
LAMB: Ho--how do you know your preaching works? When you look out
there, what--what's the tip-off to you?
Rev. FLAKE: I think the ultimate tip is that, you know, one of the
things they taught us at Xerox when I was a marketing anal--analyst
was, you know, look at people, and if you see their heads shaking, you
know that you have them in the s--on the same page with you. I think
that's the first tip-off. I think the second thing becomes--last year
alone, we had 1,100-and-some new members to join the congregation. So
immediately after a sermon, there's always an invitation. At that
point, generally, we average about 25, 30 people a Sunday, so we know
that we're being effective to a major degree.
LAMB: How much money does your ministry raise every year?
Rev. FLAKE: We raise, in the actual church offerings, about--last
year, we raised $7.2 million. And we leveraged that to about $27
million in the various other kind of community projects we do. So
we--we don't go to government or financial institutions asking to give
us anything, but we say to them that, `With our $7.2 million, we want
to leverage these dollars and get the best that we can so that we can
offer the maximum amount of services to the community that's
LAMB: If I followed you around to all the places that you have
control over, what would you have? How many buildings? How many...
Rev. FLAKE: Well, we would have--we--we--bo--a recent New York Times
piece said that we controlled, managed or have some cont--involvement
in 26 different blocks. That's about $50 million worth of
development. And, of course, that includes the homes which we
actually built and sold, so there are 173 of those. We no longer own
them, but we do have a great deal of interest in building because we
realized that stable families and stable communities generally rise in
environments where people have a sense of homeownership.
Homeownership gives them a stake in the community, a share of the
American Dream, and their responses to homeownership is quite
different from the response to rental. And so we feel it's important
to do it. We also buy up boarded-up, vacant, commercial properties,
any commercial properties around us in that 26-block area. We
generally will buy those and put them back on the market, either for
entrepreneurs or we use them for various programs that we have.
LAMB: What's the main reason that you gave up Congress?
Rev. FLAKE: I gave up Congress in large measure that--because, one,
I was a--at a point where the church was exploding. I needed to be
there a little bit more as we moved into this new facility, and--and
so that's a primary issue. The other issue is, having served 11
years, I felt that it was time for me to move on. I went to Congress
with an idea that I could take the model of ministry I had, expand
that to some degree in terms of community economic development, by
getting projects into the community.
Right now, that is the only congressional district in the country,
except maybe Mr. Byrd in West Virginia, I'm not sure, but certainly
one of the few where you would have three federal projects currently
being built--two regional buildings, the FDA and the FAA, as well as a
rail link. And that brings jobs into the community. It changes the
aesthetics of the community. And what I wanted to do was take the
time from being locked into this Congress where I was on somebody
else's schedule, to free myself, to travel this country, as I do, to
teach other ministers, to be able to energize them and inspire them to
turn their communities around as well. So in essence, I--I traveled
to about 35 different states last year either doing ministerial
workshops or different kind of groups. I do a session at Harvard with
40 ministers that they bring in in the summertime. And that allows me
to be able to help to get them to see a new approach to dealing with
ministry, which is community development.
LAMB: "The Way of the Bootstrapper"--where'd you get that--that
Rev. FLAKE: Well, it stuck with me over the years. When I was
growing up, people used to talk about pulling yourself up by your
bootstraps, and then we went through a period where it was almost
presented as a negative if you talk about bootstraps, because we got
into this sense that you can't ask people who are victims to lift
themselves up by bootstraps if they have no boots. Well, I began to
think about this and came to the realization that coming out of my
kind of background and watching the people who were able to rise to
level of--levels of success, the question was not about not having
bootstraps but, in fact, knowing that we all had bootstraps, and our
bootstraps were our dreams, our imaginations, our sense of destiny,
what we wanted to do with our lives and teachers who challenged us to
look within ourself and find our inner strength and grow from those
strengths, as opposed to what others perceived to be our weaknesses.
And so out of that challenge, I felt it was important to try to
reshape the notion of what bootstrapping is, to put it into some kind
of language that people could understand and connect with a historical
past where people did not give up so easily or allow themselves to
rise to points of depression simply because they did not have, as
measured by material things, but understand that within them, they
have the strength to be able to overcome various kinds of backgrounds,
various kinds of discriminations and be able to do something positive
with their life.
LAMB: How old are your four kids?
Rev. FLAKE: My kids are 22, the one that just graduated last Sunday;
one is 20, who is in college; one is 18, who is in college; and then I
have a 14-year-old who is finishing his first year of high school.
LAMB: You say you bought a house in Atlanta for your two daughters.
Rev. FLAKE: Right.
LAMB: And your son's going to join them there.
Rev. FLAKE: That's correct. Well, it's a sensible thing to do.
Once you--you--you know, they both go to Spelman College, and now that
he's at Morehouse, I would have been paying room and board for three
kids, so this way, with buying a house--because I teach in the church
homeownership and use of money so that you invest in appreciating
assets. So when we did the analysis and realized that paying room and
board would not get us any tax benefits or long-term equity, it just
made sense, if they were all going to be in one city, put them in a
house together. Now their problem is how they're going to live
together in terms of how they share the food and the bathrooms and so
forth, but at least they're in the house.
LAMB: You have an investment club in your church.
Rev. FLAKE: That's right. Right.
LAMB: How did an investment club get into a church?
Rev. FLAKE: Well, what happened was, about a year and a half ago, I
had a meeting. I meet on Monday nights with about 120 men, and I was
looking at the stock market as--at that point, I guess it was doing
about 7,000. And I said to the men that night, `You know, the stock
market about three or four years ago was doing 4,000, and people were
rejoicing about it. Today the market hit 7,000. Does that mean
anything to anyone in this room? How many of you have investments in
stocks and bonds?' Only three hands went up. And when that--when I
saw that, I said, `My God, I have to do something about this.' So I
asked them where their investments were, and to my surprise, the
majority of them talked about either their home, which was great, or
an insurance policy. And I related to them that if you look at the
fine print, insurance policies pay 3 1/4 percent, 3 1/2 percent after
you die. And the rest of them had their money in savings, and I said,
`How can you be in a city like New York and not understand that you
can be a player, you can be involved?'
We keep talking about being a people of poverty. We're not a people
of poverty. We have to learn to take advantage of opportunities. So
I started one investment club, and they grew--it grew so fast that we
had to s--kind of branch out. Now we have 12 clubs. They focus on
various areas, one in tel--telecommunications, real estate, utilities.
Everything the market is involved in, we have a club, basically, that
deals with it, and--and it's been very good, very positive as a
LAMB: You point out in your book, though, that the Bible says that
money is the root of all evil. How do you teach--how do you teach
the--the--the money thing?
Rev. FLAKE: Well--well, the Bible says the love of money is the root
of all evil.
Rev. FLAKE: It's a matter of priority. It's a matter of where you
put your treasure and how you manage that treasure, so that if money
becomes your predominant guiding force, in reality, you will do almost
anything to get it and almost anything to keep it, even if it means
ruining the lives of other people. If you put it in the proper
perspective, though, you realize that in a capitalistic society that
you have an opportunity to make the kind of investments, starting with
homeownership--I think that's just one great starting block because it
builds equity without you having to put much into it other than
whatever you do to maintain and keep the home up, but also beyond
that, once you build that equity, you have a primary asset out of
which you can draw from, send kids to college, start a business, do
whatever you want to do.
And so it is not quite an issue about money itself. It's how you deal
with it, and my concept is simply you don't have to wait to face the
eschatic, logical reality of death in order to enjoy the privileges of
heaven. Everybody ought to enjoy the privileges of their definition
of heaven right here, and you can't do that without money.
LAMB: How many people belong to your parish?
Rev. FLAKE: I have 10,850 as of December 31st. It's grown
considerably since then, but--and so it's about 11,000--a little over
LAMB: How many schools do you have?
Rev. FLAKE: One school for 480 kids to 500, depending on the mix,
but we keep a base of 480, and about 150 on the waiting list.
LAMB: What's the name of the church?
Rev. FLAKE: The Allen AME Church in Jamaica, New York.
LAMB: Who was Allen?
Rev. FLAKE: Richard Allen was a person who bought his own freedom.
He had been a slave in Delaware and was able to buy his freedom and
move to Philadelphia, and on a particular Sunday, as they were
worshipping in the balcony, they made a decision--he and those who
were his followers--to come down to the altar and worship to pray. As
they got on their knees to pray, they were physically removed from the
church, St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia. So he went a
block away and bought a blacksmith shop, and in that blacksmith shop,
they were able to start a church, and eventually those free slaves
built a church from the ground up, which still stands today and serves
as the mother church of the denomination. So--and then Richard Allen
also, in--in Philadelphia, when they had the plague that swept through
that city, it was his group that worked to bury people and developed a
burial association and did work for the city that was historical, and
out of that, a denomination grew that has about three million members
LAMB: How long have you been there?
Rev. FLAKE: I've been in Allen Church for 23 years. I came in 1976.
I had been the dean of students at Boston University, and a bishop
asked me if I would come and--and take the church and I did, and I--at
that point, I thought I was headed toward college presidency, and as
fate would have it, New York has turned out to be a great and
wonderful blessing for me. So it's been 23 good years.
LAMB: Now could you do both jobs while you were in Congress?
Rev. FLAKE: I pastored, yes. I kept the church while I was there,
and I was a member of the House, and as I said, it--I committed--I
commuted every night and came back in the mornings. I helped with
homework at night or went to the church and worked and then dropped
the kids off on the way to the airport and commuted back here. And so
I felt that it was important to be there for the kids. They did not
need a politician who had no relationship to the family, and so I made
it my business to make sure that unless we got out after 8:00 from
Congress, I was home. Otherwise, I was on the next shuttle on my way
to--to--to my house.
LAMB: Were those two full-time jobs?
Rev. FLAKE: They were--it's--they were two full-time--more than
full-time jobs because, you know, it became a matter of time
management so that when I was in the city, I learned that you don't
sit at a banquet or a luncheon for three hours. You actually sit as
long as is necessary, do what you have to do and move on. So it was a
matter of kind of mixing those schedules, and it worked out very well,
as members in the church were very cooperative and supportive. But I
also came back and preached every Sunday morning. During that time, I
took very few outside engagements, so they did not feel that I had
disconnected from the church but, in fact, that I was still pastor.
LAMB: Just quick--quick question on the--on the--the--on the rules of
it all. If you were wanting to be a lawyer and have a full-time job
in New York City and also do that, you wouldn't have been allowed to
do that, would you?
Rev. FLAKE: Under the rules at various points--you know, the rules
kept changing while I was there. At a point, you could have been a
lawyer, as later, the move--rules were modulated for some of the
members who came as medical doctors, but at a point, you couldn't do
it, and then by the time I left, you could. But there was always a
provision that allowed a clergyman to continue to pastor. I could not
receive a salary from the church that exceeded 15 percent of my
salary, but otherwise, I could--I could do the functions there.
LAMB: You were born where?
Rev. FLAKE: I was born in Los Angeles at the end of my father's
military term. He served with the--three years in the Army, but
Houston is what I called home because I was less than six months when
they moved back home, and so that's where I grew up.
LAMB: How--you say 13 kids in the family. What did your mother and
Rev. FLAKE: My father was a janitor most of his life. My mother was
a housewife. My father worked two and three jobs at a time because he
was determined that we would not go on welfare and that mother would
not have to work. And so what he did was, he had a day job, and he'd
come home about 3:30, we'd eat as a family, unless we were involved in
something at school, and then he would go to the night job, taking one
of the boys with him, and, in essence, at the night job, he would
sleep after showing us what needed to be done, and we learned how to
do office cleaning from the time I was about 10 years old until I
graduated and left for high school. My brother had done it before me.
My brothers who came behind me had to do it. So we learned that kind
of work ethic.
Mother was home. She taught us all--boys and girls--how to cook,
wash, iron, sew. We could do everything in the house, and the house
was clean when we left in the mornings on the bus. And then what we
did after we went, whoever did not go with him to help clean up the
offices went with him on the paper route. He'd come home and sleep
about three or four hours and get up and we had the morning paper
route in the community. And, of course, one would sit in the backseat
and roll the papers, put them over the seat, and then he would drive
through the community throwing the newspapers. So what we learned
from him was a very strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility
for family. What we learned from mother was a real keen sense of what
it means to love as a family, and we also learned from her how you not
only assume responsibility but how you manage your time to get things
done that you would not otherwise get done.
LAMB: Are there 13 or include--are the other 12 still alive?
Rev. FLAKE: No, no. We have eight--eight who are living now, four
boys and four girls, most of whom are in Houston.
LAMB: And where are you in the age?
Rev. FLAKE: I am number three--number three in the age category, so
I automatically assumed a great deal of responsibility, and as the
oldest boy after my brother left to go to the Air Force and the sister
between us had died from jaundice when she was about four years old,
so that most of the responsibility fell on me for a few years. But,
you know, you--you assume those responsibilities as a child. You grow
up with that. And I would confess that I became a workaholic as a
child, or a bootstrapper, and that followed me for the rest of my
LAMB: Who was Wilberforce?
Rev. FLAKE: Wilberforce was a freedom fighter and--in England, and
made some declarations about education and the value of higher
education and then, in a trip to America, started the first
African-American college in this country. And so I went to
Wilberforce University because he started the college with a
denomination that I'm a part of, the AME Church, out in Xenia, Ohio,
and because I had accepted the ministry at the age of 15, I felt that
it was imperative that I go to the denominational school. Plus, if I
had stayed in Houston and gone to Texas Southern or Prairie View, I
probably would have run track or something, but I probably wouldn't
have graduated, just given the reality of what most of the kids
who--who left my community and went to school did. So I made a
decision to leave home, which my mother didn't understand why you had
to go that far away for education, but I did it, and so I went to
Wilberforce, and it was a good education and went on to seminary from
LAMB: What year did you graduate?
Rev. FLAKE: I graduated in '67--1967.
LAMB: And you lived in a house there that had some special meaning.
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. I--I lived with--there was a teacher, Mrs. Ware,
who was a French teacher, and she had a heart attack. She could not
take care of the responsibilities of her house, so she put a notice up
that she was looking for someone to live in and take care of the
house, so mother's training paid off, and I'm glad she made no
distinction between boy jobs and girl jobs. We all learned to do
everything. And so I moved in, and I kept the floors and--and washed
the dishes and cooked for her and made the bed and did everything and
basically took care of her. She was about 70 years old, and I felt
very good about not only helping her but I didn't have to pay rent, so
it was good for me.
LAMB: Where did you meet your first wife?
Rev. FLAKE: I met my first wife in a church in--I think it was
Middletown, Ohio, i--in that--in that region, and--beautiful lady, and
her father was a minister, and we got married very young, too young.
Everybody told us...
LAMB: How young?
Rev. FLAKE: I was 21 when I got married. And young because I was
still in seminary, so I did not have a full-time job. I was a social
worker in the child development center, and she was in school, so I
made sure she stayed in school. So what happened--once we got
married, the stresses and strains of finance and so forth just weighed
heavily on us. When I got the offer to come t--and then I took a job
at Reynolds Tobacco my last year of seminary, and then I got the offer
to come to Lincoln University as an associate dean, so she went there
with me. But we were still in stress because our debts had mounted,
and the marriage didn't survive.
So what I do in the book is talk about the fact that no matter how
hard you try, it is always possible that you're going to have some
crises in your life, and you have to learn how, if you have a
bootstrapper's spirit, to really live beyond the crises and not
sc--spend your lifetime blaming the other person. I don't blame her
for what happened. She doesn't blame me. We had a chance to sit down
a few years later and talk about it and, you know, I think we--we
didn't take it as--as difficult as many people take a--a separation
and a divorce. And then I waited four years because I didn't want to
bring the baggage of that marriage into a new marriage, and I've been
married now for almost 24 years, and that's been good.
LAMB: So you worked for a tobacco company for a while.
Rev. FLAKE: Then I went to Xerox...
Rev. FLAKE: ...as a marketing analyst, and then I was recruited to
Lincoln by my former college dean. I was associate dean.
LAMB: In Pennsylvania.
Rev. FLAKE: In Pennsylvania as the associate dean there. And then
Boston University asked me to come to direct the Martin Luther King
African-American Center. I did that all three years because the
second year, the chaplain died. They asked me to take over as interim
chaplain, and then in the third year, the dean of students lost his
job, and I was also the dean of students at--on the campus. So it was
great for me because one of the things I'd said to Dr. Silber, who
was the president when I came to BU, was I would take the King Center
job, but I don't want to be relegated to mere African-American jobs.
I want to be a part of this campus and community and university, and I
think I bring skills that would allow me to be useful here. So
immediately after the chaplain's death, he called me and put me in the
chaplain and elevated me to dean of students, so it was a good
LAMB: And the--the year again that you went to Allen Church?
Rev. FLAKE: I went to Allen Church in 1976, when the bishop asked me
if I would come and pastor full-time, which I had never done and
pretty much had made up my mind I wouldn't do that. A--as I said, I
thought I'd be a college president. But it seemed like a great
opportunity. It had about 1,100 members then, active, and about 1,400
on the rolls. So it was a good, strong, solid church with a
foundation. And the first question I asked was, what--were they
willing to be involved in education. And we started the process of
fund-raising for the school, which we opened in '82.
LAMB: But later on in the book, you talk about something that wasn't
a lot of fun for you. And I'm just gonna read you a little bit...
Rev. FLAKE: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...and get you to tell us more about it. You say, `The writing
of this book is a means of bringing some closure to this chapter of
painful experiences. I find comfort in the ability to forgive and
move on. I'm convinced that this whole episode was all a part of
God's plan for our life and for the future growth and development of
the Allen Church.' What are you talking about?
Rev. FLAKE: Well, what happened there was we had a--as the church
grew and if you know, not only churches but almost any organization,
when you have as rapid a growth as we were having, we ran into some
situations with a few of the officers, who, basically, initially liked
the growth, but then reached a point where they were concerned because
many of the people were coming with different ranges of skills that
they didn't have. I mean, we had MBAs and lawyers and all kinds of
people. They saw themselves, unfortunately--I guess, the biblical
analogy would be as grasshoppers among giants, which was not true
because they were the treasurer or the secretary of the board and so
forth and--and--and the chief officers. But they did not see
themselves as fitting in as the church grew.
And what essentially they did was went to Internal Revenue and said I
was stealing money. Now the interesting thing about that is when I
came we had much more of a cash-based operation, and I changed the
cash-based operations to voucher-based operations, where you actually
had to have a voucher to get any money. And so we moved away from
that operation. So all of the operations then were check-based. You
had to have a check to do any kind of business with the church.
So it was an accusation that I don't think they expected to ever reach
the level of a federal trial. But by this time, I had been elected to
Congress, and, of course, I was in the public light. And so my wife
and I went to a federal trial with these accusations about having
stolen church money. They subpoenaed every organization, the 11
corporations of the church. We spent about $2 million defending
ourselves and the church, only to go to trial, and after four weeks
having the Justice Department drop its own case based on the fact that
they did not have enough evidence.
Well, when I say it affected the church in terms of growth, the daily
reporting in the paper was so positive because as those persons who
had made the accusations got on the witness stand, they in fact
testified for us because they begin to talk about the success of the
church. They looked at checks and said, `Yes, we wrote the checks.' I
wrote no checks. So all the checks were written to me, whether they
were for vacation or whatever they were for. And when the trial was
over, two people from the jury came and joined the church. And from
that, when people that seen what this church had done in community
development, the church began to grow. I mean, our fastest growth
came the year after we had had that trial. And that year was
phenomenal growth. So I think it was a blessing for the church
overall, even though it was a very painful, traumatic experience.
LAMB: Go--go back to the--the beginning of all this because you talk
about somebody that--the church made you hire an aide.
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. These three guys had made me hire a--a--an
administrative assistant. And the administrative assistant put
herself in a position where she basically took credit for the
accomplishments of the church, and with these three persons--which was
shocking to me, because, I mean, these were like brothers to me. We
were very close.
LAMB: Did you know her before?
Rev. FLAKE: Did not know her before she came into the church.
LAMB: How old was she?
Rev. FLAKE: About 20--in her late 20s, I think. And I was in my
late 30s at that point.
LAMB: And this was what year?
Rev. FLAKE: This was in--we hired her in 1983, and I terminated her
in 1985, and got elected in '86. So...
LAMB: And she went to the--I mean, how does this work? In--what I'm
getting at--because I want to ask you how you bootstrapped your way up
in that project.
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. Well, she seemed to have--I think she started the
process and I think they basically supported her in terms of getting
it to the federal--to the federal level. For some reason they saw
fit, there was--I think it really had also to do with the fact that I
had defeated a state senator, who then took a role on the State
Commission on Investigation, which was a special commission something
like, I guess, the independent counsel, whose responsibility was to
investigate corruption in politics.
So nothing occurred until the time I got elected to a political
office. And when I defeated him--remember, I had not been in
politics. I ran for the office. He was the state senator who was
supposed to come to Congress. And an assemblyperson ran who was
supposed to replace him. And somebody else was supposed to
replace--so I basically messed up the pecking order by running out of
order, having never served in the political office. And from that
state investigation commission she made some contacts, and from that
relationship, managed to get to the Feds. And before long, the Feds
were subpoenaing and everything. And I didn't even know about it
until it began to come out in the newspapers.
LAMB: Was there act--an actual indictment?
Rev. FLAKE: Yes. They were--we were indicted.
LAMB: Your wife was indicted.
Rev. FLAKE: My wife was indicted as a co-conspirator or
co--co-involved person in this process.
LAMB: What's that feel like?
Rev. FLAKE: Well, my wife has a lot more hard feelings against
people than I do. I--I think I've been a lot more forgiving in this
process. But I don't think my wife will ever be totally forgiving of
it, because these people were so close to us that we could not believe
that this could happen. We could believe that the young lady could do
it. And as you know, she even--we didn't even know where the sexual
harassment charges were coming from, because she's been--had been out
of the church a couple of years. And then we realized that all of
this was one big case and that the level of involvement had to do with
basically be--besmirching me in such a way that by the time they got
their trial to court I would not be as clean as my reputation was.
LAMB: How does this kind of thing happen in God's house?
Rev. FLAKE: Well, it happens all the time. I mean, I--I think
churches are no different from other organizations. You're dealing
with human beings who have the same basic needs that Peter Drucker and
others in management talk about--recognition and, you know, a need
to--to be involved in a process where they have some sense of power
and authority in that relationship. And so I think what happens is
that at a point when people get power in a church and they've had it
for a long time, and you then begin to stretch the band, so to speak,
by including other people, they begin to have that feeling that they
are less value than they were. And now as you begin to expand the
base of leadership, it becomes a difficult problem because people are
no longer looking to two or three people as leaders, they're looking
at a number of leaders, a--a m--a myriad of leaders. And that becomes
difficult for people who have historically had the primary resp--role
LAMB: On page 193 you write, `I began to experience chest pains, so
severe at times that I could not stand up straight.'
Rev. FLAKE: That is correct.
LAMB: When did that happen?
Rev. FLAKE: That happened during this crisis, leading up to the
crisis. I--I'd reached a point where if I got out of the bed in the
morning I was leaning almost to the level of my stomach. I mean, I--I
could not stand up straight because I was in severe pain. Went to
doctors, and they said, `There's nothing physically wrong with you.
It has to be nerve-related.' And when they said that, I realized that
at a point--you know, I'm the kind of guy who generally accepts a lot
of things. My wife says I do it to the point until I'm painted in a
corner and then I react. Well, at that point, I realized I was in the
corner. And that's when I began to move and terminated the young lady
and move these persons off of the board and decided that I was gonna
get my health together. And I did by just making decisions that I had
long delayed in making and realized I had to do it.
LAMB: What do you recommend to somebody in your boot--boot--bootstrap
philosophy when they get themselves in a position like that?
Rev. FLAKE: What I recommend to people in that--in that stage is
that, one, you confront the problem. Don't act as if the problem is
not there and try to carry the burden of that problem by yourself.
Physically, we don't know how weak we really are until we're in a
crisis and we have to confront it rather than let it defeat us. And
it will destroy us if we don't. And what I tell people in the book
essentially is that once you confront that problem, you make your
decisions, you move on those decisions. Whatever the cost of it, you
have to pay that cost. And somehow or another, in the end, if you're
right, I tend to believe you will come out better than you were if you
didn't confront the situation.
LAMB: You give us a couple glimpses of your personal choice in life,
like driving all night long from Atlanta to New York...
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: ...with your CDs. Tell us about that.
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah. Well, you know, what I--what I realized after the
kids started moving to Atlanta to go to college, I did not want them
on the highway driving their own cars. So in order to move the cars
back and forth between New York and--and Atlanta in the summertime, I
would drive. Well, I'd leave like 10:00 at night, and I can get there
by 10 the next morning. And what I say in the book is essentially I
drive the way I lead my life. I like to be in the fast lane.
And so leaving at that hour, I'm able to drive much faster than I can
during the daytime, and I find that the police generally are, you
know, resting or whatever they're doing at that time of night. And at
the same time, as I see the clusters of light ahead, I just wind my
way around until I'm back in the front. I figure I can't have an
accident unless I fall asleep if I'm in the lead. And that's the way
I do in life. I--I--I kind of maneuver my way around. When I see the
boxes--I call them the boxes--and when the boxes are in the way,
rather than getting in the boxes, I find myself move around--moving
around them, doing whatever is necessary to get to that point where
I'm in the fast lane. I get upset when people drive slow in my lane.
They just--you know, in the book I talk about the people who won't and
the people who do. And people who won't generally get in the way of
people who do. They want you to do for them, but they won't do
anything for themselves. And then they just get in your way and try
to block you. So that's the way I lead life is that--moving all the
LAMB: And you say that in the middle of your--your legal crisis that
you--and it was in the middle of a campaign, too--you met--secret
meeting at La Guardia Airport...
Rev. FLAKE: That's right.
LAMB: ...that turned into a publicity deal before it was all over.
What was that all about?
Rev. FLAKE: That was--yeah--well, what happened was, because of my
denomination, there was about to be a meeting at which the young lady
had threatened that she was gonna come and--and essentially blow up
the meeting--I mean--you know, with some accusations and things from
the floor. So that the bishop asked if I would meet with them--I met
with them in a public place, the La Guardia Airport, without the
knowledge that--with this other investigation that we were not
knowledgeable of going on that they had, in fact, set me up. So that
when I looked around, there were--there were cameras there from local
newspapers. And so I just left. I mean, I just made a decision that
this was not the way this was going to be resolved. And I had made a
decision I was not going to give money for a situation from which I
was innocent. And so after that, I had no more meetings. I just made
a decision that whatever came through the court process, I'd have to
LAMB: When was the trial?
Rev. FLAKE: My trial started in 1991. My trial was in--oh, we
started that trial in the summer of '91.
LAMB: How long did it last?
Rev. FLAKE: My trial lasted four weeks almost.
Rev. FLAKE: Three and half weeks.
LAMB: What was the verdict?
Rev. FLAKE: The verdict--there was no verdict. The Justice
Department--the judge said that if they could not present evidence in
the next week that he would drop the charges. But they came in the
next week and asked for a dismissal of the case.
LAMB: But you say they went on to have civil action in a...
Rev. FLAKE: They--they came and brought civil action for the same
things for which they had brought criminal action, which me and my
wife paid about $200,000. And it was in things that were--we thought
was ridiculous because the average pastor gets paid vacation pay,
various kinds of meetings. The church supported those things. The
problem was they were not documented. And so over a seven-year
period, they came up with what they considered to be seven--$200,000
or so worth of civil charges. And I think that was in large measure
because they spent $7 million to $10 million investigating us. And in
the end, I think they had to show something for all of that money and
all of that time that they had put into the case.
LAMB: And you say that you--you paid off a lot of your debt, but you
still have $400,000 in legal debts?
Rev. FLAKE: I have about $400,000 now in legal debts that I still
owe. And, you know, every now and then we have a little fund-raiser
so we can keep the interest up and, you know, it'll get paid over
time. And I--I just--I don't worry about it now. I just feel that
it's gonna get paid when we can pay it. Some miracle's gonna happen
and it's gonna happen.
LAMB: How did you get rid of these chest pains?
Rev. FLAKE: My chest pains just kind of dissipated after I got to a
point of confronting the issues and realizing that I had to go on with
life and move these people out of the way, almost miraculously. I was
able to stand, the pains were gone and I started an exercise program.
And since that point, I've been in probably the better--best health
that I've ever been in in my life. Because after paying twice to
health spas and not going, I decided to bring equipment in the house
and start exercising. And that has made all the difference in the
world. So at 5:30 in the morning, I do a section here called stretch;
5:30 in the morning, I'm up and I'm on the equipment and now my wife
is doing the same thing. And changed my eating habits, and--and so
now I--I offer as a means of dealing with some of our issues, a--a--a
method for physical, emotional and spiritual health in synergy with
one another, as well as changing one's diet to be able to better cope.
Because I work 16 hours a day, and I can't afford to carry the burden
of either overweight or lack of being in good shape.
LAMB: As you know, besides telling your own personal story, there's a
lot of advice in here.
Rev. FLAKE: Right.
LAMB: Nine steps on the bootstrapping thing. When--when did you
think that you should do a book?
Rev. FLAKE: I--I have been thinking of a book for, I guess, about
the last seven or eight years. I've had people like Dr. Cohen up at
Union Seminary and Gayraud Wilmore, who has written extensively, to
tell me I should do a book on the work that I'd done in the ministry.
When I came out of Congress, I realized that this was the time. I
wrote my doctoral dissertation traveling back and forth to Washington,
buying all the books at the dining table and writing all night long
and then flying back to Washington in the morning. And then after
leaving Congress, I said to myself, `Now if I could do that while I
was in Congress and I keep saying--procrastinating about writing a
book, why can't I now, before I get too engaged in too many other
things, begin the process of writing a book?'
And so in February '98, two months out of having left Congress, I
began to sit and put together an outline, not knowing exactly which
way I would go with it. But my former chief of staff, Marshall
Mitchell, introduced to me to Imar Hutchins, who's a book agent. And
we began to sit. And I told him what I wanted to do. I wanted to
write this book about bootstrapping. They thought it was a great
idea. And we began to market a proposal. And by, I think, April--end
of April, first of May--HarperCollins had approached me and said they
were interested in looking at me as an author. And so we came to a
deal, and--and here's the book.
LAMB: Who is Donna Marie Williams?
Rev. FLAKE: Donna Marie Williams is a young lady that they gave me
to help in editing the book, who did a tremendous job in trying to
keep me focused on not only shaping the outline but gave me outlines
and details on how she felt we could make a book that was marketable,
and in the final analysis, giving me the leeway to just go on and
write myself. But I think she laid out a good track for us in terms
of just an outline that we could work from.
LAMB: I've got to ask you about some of the books she's written
Rev. FLAKE: Yes.
LAMB: "The Sexy Woman's Guide to Using Abstinence for Recharging--no,
no--let me just--"Sensual Celibacy: The Sexy Woman's Guide to Using
Abstinence for Recharging Your Spirit, Discovering Your Passions,
Achieving Greater Intimacy in Your Next Relationship."
Rev. FLAKE: She said to me that I would not accept her ideas about
it; therefore, we've had no major discussion on that. No, I have not
read that book.
LAMB: And "Black-Eyed Peas for the Soul," and finally, "Sister
Rev. FLAKE: Yeah, I think on her "Black-Eyed Peas for the Soul" was
just kind of a play-off of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" model in
terms of giving advice to people. And the last book, I'm not sure
she's quite finished yet. It may be on the shelves, but I'm not sure.
LAMB: You say in the book you also you wrote as early as 4 AM in the
Rev. FLAKE: Oh, yeah. I wrote--I generally do my best writing after
midnight. Between 12 and 6, I get a lot done.
LAMB: How do you--how do you survive? I mean...
Rev. FLAKE: Well, you know, it--it's--it's a strange thing. I--my
adrenaline gets to flowing when I'm in the middle of a project,
whether that's building and developing something or whether it's
writing. If that's my focus, I'm able to do that. And generally,
during those times I'll work on getting a nap for an hour or so during
the day before I go into my evening schedule. And again, I find that
being in good physical shape means that I need less sleep.
LAMB: Now I wrote down every name as I went through the book that you
mention in there. I'm just gonna mention a bunch of them and have you
tell me why you put them in the book.
Rev. FLAKE: OK.
LAMB: Cathy Sumler.
Rev. FLAKE: Cathy Sumler is a young lady who, in our church, started
liturgical dance ministry. And it's a ministry that was not known
particularly in the black church in a major kind of way. Now she has
about 350 young women who are part of that dance ministry. And it is
the most phenomenal thing in the world. It starts with little kids,
and then intermediates and then young adults, and now we have a senior
company. So she has five companies inclusive of men now. And she's
just done a phenomenal job, and that's why she's there.
LAMB: John Glenn.
Rev. FLAKE: John Glenn is there because I think John Glenn
represents something positive for me. When--when the first--when they
did the first space shuttle, I was a kid in high school. The teacher
made us not only watch it but do book reports on it. John Glenn's
name was prominent then. And then to go and get elected to Congress
and find John Glenn in the Senate, and then to see him at a latter age
saying he wanted to go back in the shuttle and do it, I felt that was
important, so people could see that you're not restricted by age. He
had done it when he was young. He came back and did it when he was
older. And I respect him highly.
LAMB: Which Gill took this picture, and who is Gill?
Rev. FLAKE: Mr. Charles Gill is a local photographer in my
community who has done most of my photography over the years. And
Gill started his own business. He left a job in the private sector
and decided he would start his own photography business, and he built
that business. I write about him in my chapter on building a lasting
legacy. He took one of his sons--he had three sons, one of them
decided to work with him. Now he runs the business with his wife and
he's passed it on to him, and I think that's a very positive story.
LAMB: Dr. Ben Carson.
Rev. FLAKE: Dr. Ben Carson is a person who discovered, by working
with a particular young man that had been given up med--for medical
reasons, and the guy did more than what a doctor would be expected to
do by staying with the kid and bringing about a cure to--to his life
which transformed his own life.
LAMB: Candy Lightner.
Rev. FLAKE: Candy Lightner, I think, is a young lady who was
involved in trying to get a mortgage. Went through a lot of
discrimination, but was so determined to get it, that she stuck it out
until she had gotten it.
Rev. FLAKE: Vesta, of course, as you know, is a--a singer. Vesta is
one of those persons who struggled with trying to lose weight for a
number of years and could not and then at a point made a decision that
he was gonna do it and--and was finally able to get his life together
and do what he had been cro--procrastinating about.
LAMB: Chris Rock.
Rev. FLAKE: Chris Rock is one of those guys who's included because
he demonstrates that success does not come without necessary--ily
having some failures. His initial fa--foray into trying to being a
comedian and trying to follow the lead of Eddie Murphy, he found
himself failing at it. And then suddenly, his career took off because
he kept on trying. So I have him here 'cause I think that's a--a true
LAMB: Fred Smith.
Rev. FLAKE: Fred Smith is the founder of FedEx. And my wife is from
Memphis, her family's there. So we get back and forth. I remember
when FedEx was nothing. And as I go back and forth to Memphis and
seeing the explosion of that company, I realize that this was a true
bootstrapper. He thought he had an idea, and he used that idea to
develop a whole revolutionary approach to--to delivering packages and
mail and so forth.
LAMB: How much did you think about the use of all these names through
Rev. FLAKE: Well, actually, Donna and I had a lot of discussions
about them. And as she threw various names out and we talked about
what they did, I felt that it was important to kind of include them
in--in the book, to make it--to give it some substance and people
understand that everybody who's a bootstrapper was not born with a
silver spoon, but they came with the creative idea, or they gave
themself in service to somebody, or they did something special. One
of the real special ones in there that you didn't name was Freddie
Dill. Freddie Dill came out of Georgia with a third-grade education,
couldn't read or write. And he saw people losing their hubcaps
because of the potholes in New York and decided that he would start
repairing them. Now he has one of the largest tire distributor
businesses in America. So--and now he reads and writes. And not only
that, but I go in his office and he's sitting at his computer looking
at his stock investments. So, I mean--and that's a real bootstrapping
LAMB: You and Donna went to visit Mrs. Jewel Houston.
Rev. FLAKE: That's right.
LAMB: Where is she?
Rev. FLAKE: Mrs--Jewel Houston is in Houston, Texas. She's so
special in my life because when I entered the ninth grade and went
into high school, I was also engaged in a lot of church activities.
She was a youth director for the Houston area for my denomination.
She took me into the book store and gave me a position so that after
lunch I had to come to the book store every day. She was sort of the
book steward, who managed the books for the whole school. What she
did, though, was made me do my homework while I was in the book store.
And so that kind of vigilance in looking out for me--because she said
she did not want me to lose my potential or get caught up in the
things in high school that could destroy my ability to ultimately
succeed. And so she--and then in the evenings, she drove me around to
various youth meetings. On Saturdays, she'd pick me up and take me to
those meetings because daddy was working all the time. He had one
car, and he didn't all--allow entertainment miles on it. So she would
drive me to those meetings. She propelled me into positions as YPD
director for the city and, ultimately, for the state, and yout--youth
of the year for the state. And so she's special because she's that
teacher who took the time to--to help make my life.
LAMB: Now as you well know, the conservatives started to like you
when you came out for school choice.
Rev. FLAKE: That's correct. That's right.
LAMB: Why did you come out for school choice?
Rev. FLAKE: Well, I came out for school choice not because I thought
it was a conservative Repub--or Republican idea. I thought it was an
idea that reflected what I had done. It goes back to your walking the
walk and talking the talk. I developed a school in '82 because I felt
that our kids were not getting a quality education from the system in
the community in which we lived. And so my reality became one of
being able to produce a better product out of--and not testing kids
in--than the public school was doing in my community. And I see
vouchers as a way of either forcing the system to do the necessary
reforms to give the same quality of education in the subur--in the
urban communities that they do in the suburbs, or forcing them to have
to compete for students, which I think vouchers is designed to do. In
the homestead, ultimately, the system will reform itself and provide a
better education for the majority of kids.
LAMB: At what moment on a day-to-day basis in your ministry do you
say, `This is why I'm doing this'?
Rev. FLAKE: I never say this is why, it just kind of evolves. If I
see a problem, I think there has to be a solution to it.
LAMB: When do you enjoy it the most?
Rev. FLAKE: I enjoy it the most at the end, when I can see that the
effort, the energy, the time, the prayers, all that I put into it
actually paid off.
LAMB: Among all of these names, who is your f--most important person
in your life?
Rev. FLAKE: Well, outside of Mother and Daddy, I think, Mrs.
Houston, because of the amount of time she spent with me, the amount
of time she spent encouraging me, making sure that I did not keep
words like `can't' in my vocabulary. I had to expunge that word.
Making me understand that I was not a second-class citizen, but that
it would only cost a little more for me to go first class.
LAMB: And--now we only have a short time, I shouldn't do this to you.
How--what's Elaine like, your wife?
Rev. FLAKE: My wife is--my wife is a tremendous lady. As you know,
she also has an earned doctorate. But more than that, it is her
honesty, her candor, her support. Even when we disagree about what I
should do, as was the case in running for Congress. As you might see
in the book, I had now set an 8:00 service, I was not going to run
because she wasn't in favor. But she showed up between that and the
11:00 service and said I had to run. And she supported me in the
years that I was there.
LAMB: Where'd you meet her? Where did you meet her?
Rev. FLAKE: I met Elaine at a church in Boston. We were going
to--in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a matter of fact. She was a
member of the choir. I was a member of the ministerial staff. And
she's just such a dynamic lady. I mean, she speaks in her own right.
She travels the country doing workshops and ministries. We do
marriage enrichment workshops together. And I encouraged her to go
and get her doctorate, and she did that. I think she's my partner as
much as my wife and the best friend that I have.
LAMB: Now what will have to happen to make this book a success?
Rev. FLAKE: I think what'll have to happen--has to happen with
making this book a success is people read it and tell other people
about it, because the action steps there have no gender specific
areas, nothing that is about color and race. It speaks about how you
as an individual get your life together by following the three basic
outlines, and that is activate; and after you have activated, execute;
and after execution, then you accelerate to do more than what you
consider the possibility of you being able to do as an individual.
LAMB: Our guest has been Floyd Flake, former congressman, currently
pastor of the Allen AME Church, which is located in Jamaica, Queens,
about seven miles from the Kennedy Airport?
Rev. FLAKE: That's correct.
LAMB: Thank you very much for joining us.
Rev. FLAKE: Thank you for allowing me to come.
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