“I am a pastor at Trinity Family in Trinity Gardens in Prichard. We started a church plant here ten years ago and my family moved to the neighborhood. I grew up playing basketball and have always gravitated toward the African American community. I dated an African American girl in college and was immersed in the beautiful culture.”
“I grew up Catholic and met Scott when I was playing soccer at South. I never dreamed I would be a part of a ministry like this or raise my kids in a neighborhood where there are only three other white families and we hear gunshots every night, but God is using all of it. I started in a very arrogant place of I have what they need and I will go and offer it. But in reality, I needed the work done to me. Transformation has happened to me in Trinity Gardens. We feed some people and hug some kids but they are the ones who have changed us.”
“The ability for walls to come down is directly related to our willingness to hear stories. Even the more tragic stories of betrayal and harm between the two cultures over the generations. We have been in this neighborhood for almost ten years, but there are still major walls with the people who are closest to me and we have the best of relationships. They can only be dealt with through years of faithful friendship that is unwilling to break. Usually, it is the African American community who has the dedication to that relationship. Friendships that I have made in basketball have also been helpful years later.”
“I learned that all of my life I have had the ability not to know African American history or their stories but African Americans have to interact with white history and white America and play by those rules every day.”
“Not all of our social rules are good. We now live on the edge that touches other cultures. There is a ton of friction there and it is difficult to navigate the boundaries. Sometimes we get caught and ground up in the gears, but we wanted to plant a church that bridges races and cultures. We want to live in the neighborhood and be a part of the community.”
“We didn’t know if we would be accepted. We have five kids. What would it be like for them? There is a lot of craziness and we now understand some of the reasons behind kids struggling in school and low test scores. Hearing live gunshots every night does something to your brain. Our family has the resources to leave some times and we took a vacation for three weeks this summer just to get out of the neighborhood, but we realized nobody else gets to do that.”
“Kids come to our afterschool program just to be safe or to sleep. An 18-year-old was on my couch a few weeks ago, sucking his thumb as he slept. There is so much distress and most of us could not handle it. We would have to numb out some kind of way. There can be a kindness to alcohol abuse because it is an escape from a rough life. One of my buddies was shot nine times by his mother’s boyfriend. We hear the stories from all sides. The world is not black and white. It is a lot of gray.
We’re all broken people and so our motivations or never singular. It’s not until we deal with walls in our own hearts that we deal with walls on the outside. The poverty on the outside reminds us of our own poverty on the inside. We keep it as far as possible. White America has no idea what to do with poverty, we just want to fix it and move on.”
Living in Trinity Gardens has changed us because our own poverty was revealed very quickly. We are very vulnerable because of where we live. The other day, our daughter was walking our dog down one side of the street and I walked on the other. A guy on a porch says, ‘watch out, there’s dogs over there.’ We didn’t see the two pit bulls chained to a car. They rush at this little girl right here, raised up on their back legs. The only thing that stoped her from being mauled is the collars. There are many stories. I once had all of my children in the back of our car and we drove down to say hi to friends at the cul-de-sac at the end of our street. Another car pulls onto the road, facing my car. I don’t really notice it and pulled away. As soon as I pass, I look in the rearview mirror and see pistols come out and all hell breaks loose. I called immediately and my buddy says there were inside or hiding under cars, but they were alright.
There was a shooting last year at the Trinity Gardens Mardi Gras parade, one block away from us. It is sad that there is death in a beautiful time like that, but we will go back next year. You experience vulnerability very fast but our house is the safest house in the neighborhood. They watch out for us. I was out late at a concert with the kids and Katie calls and says there is someone beating on the door screaming. We had just moved there. My heart was racing and I called one of my friends, Punkin, who lives a block away. If you saw him, you would walk the other way. He looks tough but he has one of the most beautiful hearts. Punkin said, ‘I got this.’ He called me 45 seconds later and said, ‘I am here and you have nothing to worry about. Tell Katie I am here until you get home’.”
“They have so much respect for Scott. He may be a goofy white dude and they may not want to be best friends with him but most everyone knows who he is and trusts his intentions. Mrs. Wiley has lived in Trinity Gardens since there were dirt roads. They didn’t have water and she and her husband built their house from the bricks he found in Mobile. She has made us her family and takes care of us because she loves us. I tell her I can’t do this anymore and she looks at me and says, ‘you be strong for Pastor Scott.’ She has been through so much, I have to listen to her authority. She is 79 and will not rest until she is in heaven.
Bringing together different cultures into one congregation has been hard. There have been arrogances and expectations to work through. This past summer we started StoryFeast and told stories around a theme, like waiting. We all have common stories around waiting, but what does it look like in your culture and my culture? Stories help us have understanding and compassion. Our Bible studies are now more about stories and listening to each other.
We’ve asked our kids what is your life going to be like? Are you going to be happy that you lived in Trinity Gardens or do wish that this wasn’t your story? Our 13-year old daughter said she wants to be an attorney to fight injustice. She wants to fight for the people in her neighborhood that everybody thinks bad about. I was blown away. My son just things it is cool that he gets to tell the story of living here. This neighborhood is their story. It is what they love about their life.”
“It is time to come together and tell our stories, the beautiful and the ugly ones. Each of us also needs to understand our own story so we can hold the story of someone else. You can only go as far into the story of others as you can your own. If it goes down a dark way, but you haven’t gone down the dark way of your own story, it is easy to just shut it down with, ‘Well God is good.’ That just means I am out and can’t go any farther with you. The key is presence because that makes people know their life matters. Every life, every person matters, no matter what neighborhood you live in.
We are going to write two books, ‘You Can’t Make This Shit Up’ and ‘Jesus is a Thug.’ We grew up with Jesus having blonde hair and blue eyes, but I think he has tattoos on his neck, gold in his mouth and a toothpick saying come on, are you ready? Come down this street and I will show you the bloody and the beautiful. Blonde-hair, blue-eyed Jesus doesn’t prepare you for the rough times in our lives that bloody us up. Thug Jesus has been there and he will get you through.”
(This is part of a series of stories from Prichard, Alabama, a once-thriving city on the edge of Mobile. Many people have moved away from Prichard and it struggles with difficult issues from violence, drugs, and education to city government, employment, transportation, and public water. But Prichard is also a reminder that communities are more than the stories of shootings and failures reported every night on the news. It is more than crime statistics and a proud past. There are good people who haven’t given up or are coming back home to Prichard. They have hope and are giving themselves to make a difference. I hope Prichard proves that positive change comes from people like this taking action. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.)