Interview with Homer Platt

(conducted in 1996; Homer died in 2006; Revised in 2011 to reflect Homer’s passing)

Homer Baxter Platt casually brushed aside his designation as Founder of Saturday’s/Sunday’s Bread (SSB).

“A committee at The Church of All Nations had formed to do something for the growing homeless population,” he recalled in an interview. “My sister-in-law, Mary Green, was on the committee and I was just her driver. One day I made the mistake of speaking up about the need for publicity. Pastor Fitzjohn, who was pastor then, appointed me on the spot.”

They discovered that the needs of hungry people went unmet on the weekends; the next step was to find a site. The best site they found turned out to be the basement of The Church of All Nations; the organization they founded turned out to be SSB. “Others were involved,” he said “I’m just the only one left.”

In 1996, Mr. Platt led more than 1,000 dedicated volunteers. He kept the books, raised funds, made alliances in the community, and recruited organizations and trained the volunteers. For ten years, week in and week out, both Saturdays and Sundays, he served at the door, leading guests into the dining room and making friends and ties over those years with guests and volunteers. He served in the dining room, worked in the kitchen and shopped (and still shopped in 1996!) at the Boston Food Bank.

What he has given to SSB would be impressive even in the context of an otherwise inactive life. However, he was living proof of the truism – “if you need something done, ask a busy person”. His character led to success and fulfillment in his profession, his personal relationships and his passionate avocation-community, religious and human service.

He was the first African-American male student to graduate Windham High School in Willimantic, Connecticut. Following family tradition, he then attended Livingstone College in South Carolina. Returning north, he attended Boston University’s Law School and graduated from its College of Business Administration. Homer then married and worked. His career and family life were interrupted by WWII.

After serving in the Navy, Homer returned to the Boston area and his growing family. “From the first job I found after the war which started on July 1, 1946 to the day I retired after 29 years with the Social Security Administration on March 23, 1979, I never had an unemployed day. It was always end a job on Friday and start the new job on the next Monday,” he said.

He began his career at the Social Security Administration as a field representative. He retired as District Manager. The awards, promotions, and testimonial letters that filled his personnel file attest to his professionalism and effectiveness; the nature of some of his assignments, such as traveling through the South in 1966 to inspect hospitals for nondiscriminatory practices for Medicare program eligibility, and recruiting, with a team of colleagues, graduates of predominantly black colleges of the South in 1969 for SSA employment, attest to the faith and confidence people had in the man. Throughout his career with SSA, he was often tapped to be its “public face,” when new policies had to be publicized and implemented or alliances had to be made.

Retired from his professional career, his second career, the one in religious, community and human service, remained as vigorous and active as it ever was. The same qualities that brought him the respect that led to his professional success brought recognition to him and the organizations fortunate enough to have him as a member. He served more than one Boston mayor on issues of human services and bringing diverse communities together. During Mayor Raymond Flynn’s term of office, he received the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ End Hunger award. Mayor Thomas Menino (whom he served as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Hunger) proclaimed a Saturday’s/Sunday’s Bread – Homer Platt Day in the city of Boston. Brandeis University honored him in 1989 with its “Sanctity of Life” award. During Homer’s active years, The National Council of Methodist Churches chose The Church of All Nations as “one of five most vibrant” parishes in the nation for its work in human services.

Besides SSB, he served these other organizations: Family Service of Greater Boston, Preacher’s Aid Society, Boston Wesleyan Association, and the Roxbury Community Health Center.

On a personal note, he was married to Sarah, his second wife, since 1965. He had lost his first wife, Mrs. Helen Platt, with whom he raised three sons, Dennis, Homer Jr., Allen, and a daughter, Neta. When asked about grand- or great-grandchildren, he replied “Eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild…I think.” He always enjoyed jazz and, later in life, had branched into classical music. On the date of this interview he was reading, appropriately enough, Homer’s Odyssey!

Dedicated father and husband, dedicated professional, dedicated servant of God and his fellow humans, when asked how he does all he does, he gave all credit to his parents, The Reverend John Wesley Platt and Neta Platt, his church, and the society and times in which he came to maturity.

“I was doubly born and bred in the church. My father was a minister,” he said. “I fact, I was born March 31, 1914, in Salisbury, North Carolina while my father was studying at the Methodist seminary.” At the age of seven, Mr. Platt and his parents moved to Connecticut, where his father was assigned after ordination. His parents raised their only son to follow in their footsteps by word and deed. They both went beyond what was asked of them by the church in terms of service to others. During this interview, Mr. Platt’s voice remained alive with the love, gratitude and esteem he felt for his parents more than half a century after their deaths: “My parents taught me that only one person was ever born who was better than any other person, and that was Jesus Christ. As for the rest of us, we are all equal under God,” he explained.

His spiritual inheritance from his parents pervades SSB. “When I did orientations, I explained to them that what we do here is to treat every guest who walks in the door as if they were invited guests coming to dine in our own homes,” he said. “Being in need does not cancel out a human being’s dignity and the right to be treated with dignity.”

“We haven’t needed security at SSB. We’ve never felt the need for armed guards or anything like that,” Mr. Platt explained. “When you treat people with high expectations, they live up to them. In all our years, we have had only six difficult situations. Everyone, guests and volunteers, works to maintain the peace of SSB’s dining room.”The only responsibility that he had been reluctant to bear had been taking the title “Founder.” He insists that others led the way. He just got involved and stayed involved. However, he agreed — reluctantly — to take his honor the volunteers have foisted on him. (He ran a democracy, after all.)

Ironically, while the volunteers regarded him with awe, his admiration was reserved for them. “All these people work,” he said. “Full-time and that’s not easy. They give up half of a weekend day they could be relaxing, having fun or getting some errands done to come here and work, and work hard.” He went on, “Many of them then tell me how working here is one of the most gratifying experiences they have ever had and often they come in to work before they are next scheduled.” Then this amazing man said of his troops, “These are incredible people.”