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The Christophers: Bringing Hope to a Hopeless Cause

Tony Rossi, Director of Communications


CNN’s John Blake and his brother, Pat, grew up in inner city Baltimore during the late 1960s/early 1970s. Their father, who was Black, worked as a merchant seaman and was away from home for eight months of the year. As a result, the boys often found themselves in abusive foster homes because their mother was not around. All they were told was that she was white, her name was Shirley, and her family hated Black people. For John, the hatred went both ways. Though no one in his community told him he should hate white people, “it was just something I absorbed like the humidity,” he explained during a “Christopher Closeup” interview about his memoir “More Than I Imagined: What a Black Man Discovered About the White Mother He Never Knew.”

During John’s childhood, one person served as his “lighthouse in the sea of chaos”: his paternal Aunt Sylvia, who taught him the value of books and the power of faith. He recalled, “I went to this church where a lot of blue-collar Black people attended. Outside of Sunday, a lot of them were considered nobodies …But when they came to church, they had this dignity and this love of God that even as a kid I could sense. It really impressed me.”

At age 17, John’s life changed radically when he and Pat were finally taken to meet their mother. They arrived at a mental institution called Crownsville, which was known for abusing patients. “It’s the saddest place I’ve ever been,” John said. A hospital orderly soon brought a thin white woman into the room. Her eyes lit up, and she exclaimed, “John and Pat, it’s so good to see you!” It was their mother, Shirley.

That meeting resulted in several epiphanies for John. “No one told us that our mom had this severe mental illness called schizophrenia,” he recalled. “We didn’t make that discovery until that day…[Also], before I met my mom, I didn’t think that any white person could empathize with what it meant to be Black…to be looked down upon because of nothing that you have control over. But when I met my mom, I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a Black person suffer like that.’…That was the first time I developed empathy for a white person.”

Before John left, his mother asked him to send her a St. Jude prayer book. He didn’t know who St. Jude was, but soon learned he was the patron saint of hopeless causes for Catholics like his mom. She considered herself a hopeless cause and relied on St. Jude to help her. Shirley’s life improved in the ensuing years, and St. Jude brought hope to other “hopeless” situations.

John explained, “I’ve seen people in my mother’s family who denied they were racist—even though they used the N-word—I’ve seen them change…There’s a Scripture…in the New Testament where Paul talks about we’re all new creations in Christ…People can change. Racism is not embedded in our DNA. That’s one of the things I try to show in my book.”

In the end, “More Than I Imagined” provides readers with a complex, nuanced view of humanity where our sins coexist with our virtues, and we can’t just put each other into a box of good and bad. John’s story also proves that we can each choose to become better through love, humility, mercy, and getting to know each other as human beings rather than stereotypes. Because none of us should be seen as hopeless causes.


For free copies of the Christopher News Note LOOK FOR THE BEST IN PEOPLE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:   

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