Journey to Manhood
Gerald Golden, Sr.
by Monica Haynes
Gerald Golden is not a large man in stature. So it’s probably safe to say that he wasn’t the biggest kid among the group of guys he grew up with in his Churchill neighborhood. Still, even at a young age he exhibited the qualities of a leader, and thus became the go-to guy among his peers, who nicknamed him “Dean.”
However, at the age of 16, his natural leadership and affinity for sticking up for others, nearly got him killed. “I’ve always had a heart for those who were being taken advantage of,” he said. “Out of the 20 skirmishes, I’ve had, probably 18 of them were in defense of someone else.”
This one startling incident started over a hat. While, Golden was away at a summer program to in Massachusetts to prepare for pre-school, his friends told him about a drug-addled guy in the neighborhood, who’d taken a hat from one of them and was taunting them every night. When he returned home, his friends pointed out the guy, relying on their friend “Dean” to handle the situation. “So I just approached the guy and I’m being diplomatic,” Golden said. He told the guy that he needed to return his friend’s hat. However, the other young man did not take kindly to that and began threatening to kill Golden. “Every day that he saw me he’d say I’m going to kill you. You’re going to be dead in a few days.”’
Finally, Golden had enough and told his mother that she might have to call the police after he went to the basketball court that day. Naturally, his mother was upset and asked him to stay in. He kissed his mother on the cheek, told her he loved her and went outside. While playing basketball, he and his friends spotted the man coming down the street with a pistol. Once again the man threatened to kill him. But instead of running, Golden walked up to the man, grabbed the pistol placed to his own head and said, “If you’re going to shoot me, shoot me, but this stops today.” The other young man jerked his hand away and began backing up. He said, ‘Boy, you crazy. I said, ‘yeah, I am crazy. I am sick of you. Don’t you come here no more.” He didn’t see the guy for six months.
Golden, now a 59-year-old husband, father of two and grandfather of one, has used his leadership skills throughout his life, whether as a youngster handling neighborhood toughs, a clothing salesman, a warehouse worker, or a member of the Virginia Air National Guard, where he served for 31 years. But perhaps, where his leadership has had the largest impact, is in his service to God. A member of Cedar Street Baptist Church, he is co-ministry leader of the Men of Cedar Street (MOCS). He will be the sole leader of that group in November. He is also in training to become an associate minister at the church, and is on schedule to receive his license by the end of this month or the beginning of October. He is also a member of the church’s Brotherhood Choir. “I just do whatever is needed. We have a mentorship program. I’m not listed an official member, but I mentor every day.” Known as “Poppa G” to his church daughters and sons, it’s a role he relishes. “They bring me great joy. I love the name. It allows me to connect with the little ones, the teenagers, 20-somethings and 30-somethings.”
Golden has always been able to connect with people, he said. “I organized the little neighborhood football games. I was always the one who brought the kids together from different neighborhoods.” He also helped establish a little social club called the Imperial Diplomats, of which he served as the president. Out of that grew a homework club, that he established in which guys who were strong in certain academic subjects would tutor those who were weak. The homework club met at Golden’s house. He was all of 13 at the time.
His academic prowess resulted in him receiving a full scholarship to attend Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA under the A Better Chance Program, which provided educational opportunities for minority students. He turned down the chance to attend as an 8th grader. But a year later, he was ready.
While he grew up in a very nurturing environment with a loving mother, stepfather, grandmother, aunts and uncles, there were still hardships. “I witnessed some difficult times as a result of the challenges that they had in their marriage,” he explained. “I even found myself being in a peacemaker role sometimes between my parents, which I did but it was tough. I had to make decisions and bring order to situations on occasion.” Because of that, Golden said he needed the break that attending prep school provided. His strong personality and confidence helped him get along in an environment of “super rich white kids.” “I think it would be less than true to say I wasn’t a bit intimidated at the time, but I got along by being a jock, playing sports, which bridges a lot of gaps sometimes,” he said. After a month, he was as popular as ever, serving as basketball team captain and starting at football. “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” he said of his year at prep school. “I wouldn’t take anything for it because it opened me up. I got exposed to so many different cultures.”
Although, he sometimes wishes he had stayed, he returned to Richmond and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. His parents, were having a tough time in their marriage and he came back to once again play the peacemaker. “I never said that to my mom and dad, but that’s really why I came home,” he said.
After high school, Golden began working downtown in Graham’s Men’s Shop and then took a job as a miscellaneous worker at American Tobacco Company, doing everything from sweeping the floor to unloading trucks. During this time, he also joined the Virginia National Guard, serving part-time. When American Tobacco closed, he went into the National Guard full time. Initially, he was doing warehouse work again, but that’s not where he stayed. “I’m extremely proud to say as a result of serving my country and taking all the different courses I needed to take, I achieved the rank of Senior Master Sergeant,” Golden said.
It was not long after high school that he met his wife of nearly 40 years, Dolores. Their meeting is a story Golden loves to tell. He was set up by a friend, whom he thought had been dating Dolores. So when he rides with his friend and they end up at Dolores’ house, Golden thinks he’s going to be a third wheel. Dressed in cut off shorts, he had no idea that his friend was setting him up so he made no attempt to make a good first impression. Eventually, his friend let him in on the deal, and Golden spent the rest of the evening talking to his future wife. The couple have two children, daughter Dione and son, Gerald Jr. and a grandson, Armante’. “I love my wife,” she’s my everything. She’s played a large part in me being a successful man.”
For more than 30 years, Golden was a member of Asbury United Methodist Church, which was his wife’s church. While there, he became a lay leader, a certified lay speaker and a certified ministry candidate. But he chose not to become a licensed minister at that time. Eventually, he felt it was time to move on and he ended up at Cedar Street Baptist, his family church. Golden’s success has come despite, some of the choices, Golden has made. “Before I got married and while I was married, I did my share of drinking,” he admits. “I was functional as I used and abused substances.” Even the risk of random drug tests while serving in the National Guard was not enough to dissuade his use. “You’re thinking you’re smarter than the system, whether you’re a thief or whether you’re a drug addict or in business,” he said. Eventually, he was able to stop his substance use. “I’ve just always had a very strong desire to represent God as a man in the best possible light, and there was just this yearning and the unction of the Holy Spirit that never left me,” Golden said. “The spirit stayed after me and I just realized that this is what God wanted of me.”