The Student of Life
Once bankrupt, penniless, and addicted to Cocaine, James Macklin is now helping millions of people in need througth the Bowery Mission
Macklin, the Director of Outreach at the Bowery Mission in New York City, once found himself in a difficult situation, as many people are in his community. He moved mountains to achieve who he is today, and the road to becoming a giver instead of a taker was a long one.
In December, 1939, James Macklin was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia to a 14 year old girl whose parents came from British West India. His grandmother was pregnant simultaneously, and she did not approve of abortions. Soon after Macklin’s birth, he was adopted by an affluent couple who resided in the Virginia countryside.
James Macklin’s adoptive mother loved him very much. She was educated and sharp. Macklin didn’t know he was adopted at that time, as his mother never said anything about his birth, and he no longer had contact with his birth family.
Raised in a big house on 52 acres of farmland, Macklin became a “spoiled little boy.” His family’s needs were easily met, and his mother would give him whatever he wanted. But, when Macklin’s mother died when he was nine, his whole world flipped.
He didn’t know whom to turn to. He was sent to different foster homes, as a commodity, to help those families receive money for adoption. He was not loved by any of them. When he was 16, he ran away from his foster home to live independently. He grew tobacco, raised farm animals, and experienced racism. He decided to move to Washington, and, later New Jersey, in search of a better life.
Macklin first worked for a forestry company in New Jersey, planting trees on streets in New York City. In 1966, he began working for a commercial cleaning company, , and later was promoted to manager. Seeing the high profit his company has made, he opened his own cleaning business in 1971, which earned him about $250,000 in the first year.
Macklin’s company was doing very well. He had repeat business, and, in 1982, 30 employees. Macklin became rich — so rich he once bought cars for his top employees. This is exactly when Macklin began to experiment with Cocaine.
Macklin was talking a walk “on a wild side,” as he explains. He lived an extravagant life, dressing nicely, wearing the best cologne every day, and was surrounded by beautiful women. He neglected his company, despite warnings from other people, who were seeing the negative effects his wild lifestyle was having on his business.
“I thought I could do anything I wanted to do. I had too much of everything, ” Macklin said.
Soon, Macklin’s business started to fail and went bankrupt. He laid off all his employees. He became a drug dealer to make ends meet and satisfy his lifestyle, and became the best customer of his new business.
By 1987, he had spent all his money, was aimless and homeless. One night, he was so tired he fell asleep on the train. He was woken up by a woman, who told him about the Bowery Mission. After he set foot in the door, he stayed.
At the Bowery Mission, Macklin began to talk to people he was “too proud” to speak to in the past. He made good friends. Most importantly, he discovered self-worth. He recovered from his addiction, and was promoted to manager, and, later, director, after years of hard work.
Macklin’s turn-around is an example for all, especially those who are struggling because he has experienced, first-hand, what they are experiencing now. He sees poverty in a different way because he has been there. Now, as director of the organization and a public speaker, Macklin travels all over the country — to schools, prisons, and other organizations — to tell his story, and introduce the Mission, which helps people get back on their feet, and serves meals for about 1,000 people every day.
James Macklin, 76, looks young and healthy. It is very hard to believe that he has been HIV-positive for about 20 years. Because of his wild life, and the choices he made in the past, he discovered his HIV-positive status years after coming to the Mission. After his doctors found the right drug cocktail, he committed to his health, joking he has taken more pills than can be found in a CVS store. He wanted to survive, and be reborn. And he finally has.
Currently, Macklin lives with his family in a high-ceiling apartment in the Bronx, pays $1,600 a month for rent, and drives to work every weekend. In 1971, he found his biological mother in New Jersey. They became very good friends. When his mother was about to pass, his mother’s sister told him the secret. His mother got pregnant because she was raped. The pastor said to Macklin that his mother prayed to God every week to ask God to bring him back home. Reunited with his mother in 1971, he was able to put away bitterness and hatred.
“If a man says to me that he’s not been helped, I’ll tell him to shut up. We’ve all been helped and blessed,” said Macklin.