eduardo-schneider-photography, pastor philip dukes

Pastor Philip Dukes

Being an art director and a photographer for Boca Raton magazine from 2006 to 2009 has allowed me to experience some interesting and sometimes very odd situations. Like the day editor Kevin Kaminski and I were kicked off FAU’s practice field by head coach Howard Schnellenberger after photographing the then-recently recruited Georgia Bulldogs’ kicker Blair Walsh.

During that period, I was on assignment photographing Pastor Phillip Dukes in Riviera Beach for a story on gang activity in Palm Beach County. Dukes’ story is quite inspirational: He was a drug dealer and gang member in the ’80s, served a two-year jail sentence and decided to turn his life around and help keep kids from going down the same path.

I met Dukes at his storefront church, and, as soon as I went through the door, I noticed a whole ensemble of musical instruments—some plugged in, some still on. I quickly narrowed in on the beat-up Tama drum set in the middle of the passageway to the altar. Dukes likely saw the way I looked at the drum set because he asked me, “Are you into music?” I quickly replied, “I’ve been playing drums all my life.”

I continued to set up the lights for the photo shoot, and, all the while, I could hear loud hip-hop beats blaring through speakers from cars parked at the convenience store next door. Dukes and I kept talking—about religion, politics, but mostly about his community work, during which, among other things, he gives free music lessons to kids as a way to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.

His passion for his community and dedication to wipe drugs and gangs off the streets is contagious but not duly appreciated by some. The 45 caliber bullet hole in the side of his SUV makes that point very clear. “What did you do after they shot your car?” I asked. “I stopped the car and called the police,” he replied calmly. “You stopped?!” I said in awe.

The photo shoot was finally over and all the equipment packed. As I tried to say goodbye, he shook my hand and said, “You said you play the drums. Let’s see what you’ve got.” He turned his keyboard on and warmed up his fingers while I adjusted the cymbals to my liking. Next, I heard a muffled “One, two, three, four,” and, suddenly, I was in a jam session with Pastor Philip Dukes to the best of soul music, like Sly and the Family Stone.

It was finally time for me to go. “You’ve got skills, my friend,” he said to me after our little session. All I did was hit some drums. Dukes saves lives every day by working with kids in his community—and he says I’ve got skills? No, sir. From what I could see, you’re the one with the skills.