You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. — Galatians 5:13-15
All about Clara McBride Hale (1905-1992)
Clara Hale had a mission of motherhood. Her life experiences helped make her extraordinarily empathetic to the pain and suffering of other mothers and children. Her compassion gave her an unusual capacity to love and to find solutions.
“Mother Hale” was born in North Carolina in 1905. After her father was killed, her mom moved the family to Philadelphia, PA. After she married , she had two children, and adopted a third. Her husband moved the family to New York City, but he lost his battle with cancer when Clara was 27.
Through the Great Depression, Hale raised and supported her children, working as a domestic by day and a janitor by night. In 1943, Hale opened a daycare in her home in order to spend time with her children as well as care for others. It grew from a short–term to a long–term care facility. She also took care of foster children.
When Clara Hale retired in 1968 she could not have foreseen that her most notable endeavor, the founding of Hale House, was yet to begin. Hale House started in 1969 when Clara Hale’s biological daughter, Lorraine, brought a mother and child who were addicted to drugs to Hale’s home. She could not refuse the desperate pair. Actually, she had no choice becasue the mother disappeared and left the baby behind while Hale made a phone call in another room. Hale took the tiny baby girl and nursed her through drug withdrawals. The young mother had other children, and when she returned to Hale’s residence, she brought the others and left them, too. Eventually she returned to take the children back. Hale sent the family off with her blessing and never charged a penny for her help. Within a few short weeks Mother Hale’s apartment was packed from wall to wall with 22 drug-addicted babies. Some of them were abandoned; some were orphaned. As Mother Hale told the tale to Irene Verag of Newsday, “Before I knew it every pregnant addict in Harlem knew about the crazy lady who would give her baby a home.”
Slowly the Hales (Clara, daughter Lorraine, and sons Nathan and Kenneth) allowed their lives to become virtually consumed by the effort to instill hope and to inject healing into the lives of addicted parents in Harlem. The dedicated family worked day and night to support their cause. Mother Hale kept the frailest of the infants in her own bedroom, cradling them and walking the floors all night when necessary to comfort each one through the painful experience of detoxification. The younger Hales took as many jobs as was necessary to bring in the funds to support the many, many children who came into their home. “It wasn’t their fault they were born addicted. Love them. Help one another,” Hale explained to others, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune.
She later got a home license as a “child care facility” in 1970, called the Hale House. A few years later Hale purchased a larger building. In 1975 she was able to attain a license for child-care. She raised the children as if they were her own and once they were healthy she would help to find families interested in adoption. She took it upon herself to make sure the families were a correct fit and even in some cases turned families down if she thought they could not provide a good enough home for the child. Hale said, “My daughter says she was almost sixteen before she realized all these other kids weren’t her real sisters and brothers. Everyone called me ‘Mommy.’” She eventually helped over 2,000 drug addicted babies and young children who were born addicted to drugs, children born with HIV, and children whose parents had died of AIDS. It was simple, she said; “Hold them, rock them, love them and tell them how great they are.”
After the grant that helped her buy Hale House expired her work became a victim of severe cutbacks of state and city funds. Public agencies with competing services repeatedly harassed the center.
Successfully supported by individuals, churches, and community groups, Hale House nonetheless became unique in its format and demonstrated a sharp contrast to public agencies for the care of children. In the the program’s early days when funds for food and supplies were few and meeting payroll was a constant challenge, Clara Hale’s personal faith in Christ and the love and active concern of ordinary people were her only reliable sources of strength and support. They brought her disposable diapers, formula, and other items that were in constant demand.
One notable admirer spent more than two years, off and on, trying to track down Clara Hale because no one among his circle of friends knew her name. Finally, John Lennon found her and sent a check for $10,000. “He came with his wife and son and spent time with the children,” Hale had said. After Lennon’s tragic death the following year, Yoko Ono, his wife, sent more gifts, including a check for $20,000, which arrived every year thereafter.
One morning, another fan made her way to Hale’s doorstep. As she emerged from a black limousine, the usual paparazzi who typically pressed for pictures were elsewhere. This was a private visit, for sure. Nonetheless, the presence of Princess Diana made it a royal and memorable one. As the princess stood at the top of the brownstone stairs, she lovingly held a baby in her arms. “Thank you for the work you’re doing here for these children,” she said to Mother Hale.
On February 6, 1985, at the close of the State of the Union message to Congress, President Ronald Reagan turned to Mrs. Clara Hale, seated at the side of the first lady, Mrs. Reagan, and recognized “Mother Hale” for helping babies of drug–addicted mothers in Harlem, N.Y. The president said to members of Congress and to all America, “go to her house some night and maybe you’ll see her silhouette against the window as she walks the floor, talking softly, soothing a child in her arms. Mother Hale of Harlem, she too is an American hero.”
The media made her a bit famous. Here is a Mother’s Day report from NBC in 1984:
What do we do with this?
It may have been harder than Mother Hale let on. By 1983, 28,000 women had succumbed to drug–addiction in New York City alone. More than 50,000 children were born chemically dependent. These children were also at high risk of acquiring AIDS from their mothers during pregnancy. In New York State, there were about 250,000 addicts. At least 450,000 were users of cocaine, with one out of every 20 people over the age of 12 involved in drugs.
Today, such people are officially known to suffer from “Substance Use Disorder.” But in the 1980s, rather than declare their situation a national health crisis, society declared a crime wave was sweeping the nation. Mass incarceration and benign neglect of poor minorities became the response, rather than the implementation of well–funded addiction treatment and mental health programs.
Systemic issues are just that. If you want to make an individual response to social issues, talk to the powers that be as well as act with compassion in your neighborhood.
Love can accomplish a lot, even if you are needy yourself! Spend a minute a let God love you, needy child who you are.
Transformation often starts with a small inspiration or opportunity and grows up to accomplish a lot! Spend another minute and see what love is doing through you or your church. Give praise for how the love of Jesus flourishes even when the powers-that-be are against it. Maybe it is a good day to imagine how Jesus would like to work through you, or yours. Tell someone about the seed thought you may have and see where it goes.