I walked into the Ascension School building in north Minneapolis this afternoon as the heat index soared well above 100 degrees.
As I waited in the hallway, principal Dorwatha Woods poked her head out of her office and gave me a warm greeting.
Once again, I was there to make a wild game donation. But, I was going to get something meaningful in return – smoked wild turkey. Yum!
Several weeks ago, she had accidentally dialed me and I happened to mention during our conversation that I have a bunch of wild turkey in the freezer. She replied that she has a smoker and she knows how to use it.
What a match! My friend, Steve Huettl, had some extra turkey he wanted to give away, so I took it off his hands and gave it to Dorwatha for smoking. When she described the process of smoking it in her charcoal smoker, I was getting hungry right then and there.
Of course, it’s nice to get something back, but that’s not why I bring wild game to her. She prepares it for poor and underprivileged folks, of which there are many in north Minneapolis. That’s something I believe in, and it takes very little prodding to put together a care package for her.
I added a few packages of venison to the donation, plus two turkey legs from the bird my son, Joe, took in Montana. So, it was a nice selection of wild game for her, and I’ll be counting the days until I get smoked wild turkey. I’ve never had smoked turkey before, so it will be fun to try.
After depositing the bag full of frozen game on her office table, we sat down and started talking about life, as we always do. I couldn’t help but think of her in the wake of the shooting death of 5-year-old Nizzel George not far away from her school on June 26, as he slept on his grandmother’s couch.
I know that this type of tragedy tears at Dorwatha’s heart, not just because of its proximity to her school, but because caring for children is her passion.
Sadly, this shooting is one of many to take place in her school’s neighborhood during the 25-plus years she has been at the helm at Ascension School. Thankfully, she – and her school – is a beacon of light in an area shrouded by the darkness of violence.
Amidst the crime, she marches – and prays – on. More than 200 children are safe within her school’s walls, even though she often invites the very thugs who perpetrate street violence into her building.
“I am determined to make a difference in this neighborhood,” Dorwatha proudly proclaims, adding that she is afraid of no one, even when police issue warnings that people should not be alone in a parking lot.
She scoffs at such alerts, saying “I’ve been going out alone for millions of years.”
It is not so much a statement of age, but of experience. What else would you expect from a woman who once walked across the street and told a group of young men to clean up the drug paraphernalia in the yard so the school children would not see it while looking out their classroom windows?
There is no fear in Dorwartha, but lots of fight left. And, make no mistake, she will not rest while kids are dying in her school’s neighborhood. Unlike many others who see such violence regularly, she has not grown cynical.
Far from it. She continues to open her arms wide and offer a warm smile to every visitor a warm, even those who have been in jail, or will be on their way there soon. She sees value in every person, saying over and over that all people are God’s children and have value.
I’m happy and proud to say I am on her good side, though the stories she tells indicate that visits to her office aren’t as scary as students might think.
In other words, she’s as tough as nails, but with a heart of gold.
And, I can’t wait to be called to this principal’s office for some smoked wild turkey!