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Custodian tells amazing story of survival in war

Custodian tells amazing story of survival in war
February 19
00:00 2015

By Kim Underwood, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

The people who work at the Special Services Center know Patrick King as the custodian who comes in each morning at 5:30 a.m. to open up the school. He spends his day taking care of his responsibilities with meticulous attention and a consistently positive attitude.

“Whatever he does, he wants to do right, said Blanche Stevens, the Exceptional Children preschool intake coordinator who serves as the building’s informal manager.

“The building is always clean, and he’s pleasant … He is a good-hearted person and a hard worker…It’s a nice combination,” she said.

It’s a job that King finds quite satisfying. “I love it,” he said. “Everything is correct. I like my bosses.”

The Special Services Center on Mock Street serves as home for a number of programs for the Exceptional Children’s Division, which serves students with special needs. The people at the center also know King as a man who has seen and experienced much during his 68 years of life.

He was born in Jamaica and grew up in Liberia, where his father had gone to serve as the priest for an Episcopal church. King grew up to become a police officer, got caught up in the country’s civil war and fled the country. After spending eight years in a refugee camp in Ghana, he came to the United States.

“He still does a lot for Liberia,” Stevens said.

For instance, when textbooks in the United States are discarded as outdated, he will ship them to Liberia where they are still valued. The Special Services Center is a close-knit community, Stevens said, and King is part of that. He comes to potluck gatherings, and, on the billboard in the lobby that announces, “Our staff is full of shining stars,” King has a star.

With the work that people in EC division do, Stevens said, they are accustomed to learning people’s stories, and, over time, King has told people stories about his life.

King’s wife, Emma Yah King, works as a custodian at Glenn High School. His younger brother, Aston Stanford King, is a teacher assistant at Hanes Magnet School. They look enough alike that people have mistaken one for the other.

During the first civil war in Liberia from 1989 to 1997, more than 200,000 were killed.

“The whole country was upside down,” King said.

King’s brother William went to work one day and never came home. King heard that he had been beheaded. A foster brother was also killed. King heard that he, too, was beheaded.

As a police officer in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, King was considered a threat by some factions. One day, he was captured by a group of men. It was not a day he expected to live through. When a man he had once helped saw him, he rescued King by telling the men holding him that King was his father and put him somewhere where he was able to escape.

King sees that as the hand of God.

“Only God got me out of there,” he said. “I got free. I fled the civil war.”

Although he was unable to get help through American embassy, people from Nigeria – a country to the east of Liberia – were ready to do what they could to help.

“I got on a Nigerian warship, and I fled to Ghana,” King said. “I got out with my two sons.”

Earlier, he had lost his first wife to illness.

“I stayed in the refugee camp in Ghana,” he said. “I lived in Ghana for eight years.”

While in Ghana, he married again. His second wife later died from breast cancer. Other members of his family had also been able to get out of Liberia and eventually to the United States. With their help and the help of a program sponsored by the Lutheran church, he finally came here in 1998. In 1999, a second civil war broke out in Liberia.

After working part-time for WS/FCS and other organizations for a few years, he became a full-time employee of the school system in 2005. At the Special Services Center, King works a split shift. After coming in at 5:30a.m. to open the building, he works until 8 a.m. and leaves. He returns at 11 a.m. and stays until it’s time to close the building.

Along with adult children, King has children who are still in school and live at home. At home, he likes to putter around the house and tend his garden, where he grows sweet potatoes and other vegetables. He is always doing something. “My wife says, ‘You can’t rest.’”

At times, he does extra work on the side – cleaning houses or painting. Sometimes, when he is out and about, the sound of a police siren will stir memories of more turbulent times.

King and his family go to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“I go to church every time I can go to church.”

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