After a Fire, a Pastor Keeps a Harlem School Going From His Brownstone

The sounds of children once again fill the ground floor of the Eatmans’ brownstone on West 119th Street. This was not exactly the plan the Harlem couple had envisioned after raising four of their own children. But as the Rev. Charles Eatman Sr. knows, few things — other than the Ten Commandments — are written in stone.

In December, a fire caused serious damage to the Mount Pleasant Christian Academy, which Mr. Eatman started in 1982 to provide an education that mixed religion, a sense of the world and pride in African-American culture. Without much delay after the fire, Mr. Eatman and his wife, Lorraine, took in the students, turning the ground floor of their nearby home into a makeshift schoolhouse for prekindergarten through 12th grade.

Despite the tight quarters, nobody is complaining.

“A school is not just about the brick and mortar,” Mr. Eatman said. “It’s not about a building. It’s about nurturing. And part of what we do is teach flexibility. You can’t just fall apart because something went wrong.”

Of course, as a preacher, he does not fail to invoke a favorite biblical verse from Ecclesiastes. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might,” he recited. “In practical terms, I’ve been given some special gifts and I have to make the most of them. So, there was a fire. What next?”

In some ways, his insistence on not letting anything stop him, or his 25 students, dates to his childhood in Harlem and the Bronx, at schools where the curriculum was neither interesting nor challenging. He managed to go on to college, where he was so scared of being called upon by the professor that he prayed it would not happen. Despite his fears, one teacher put him at ease, and that set him on his path to becoming a public-school teacher in Queens.

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By David Gonzalez | May 24, 2015

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