"Approach the intersection of Second Avenue and Boulevard Drive any time, day or night, and you will see the raw and unchecked version of street life when crime takes over a community." That was the opening line of my monthly Urban Perspective one year ago. It described one of East Lake's most notorious sections, an area we called "the beachhead" where we purposed to wage peace. Take a look at this corner one year later. Four major crack houses have been eliminated - two torn down and two shut down. The "chop shop" where stolen cars were stripped is now gone, replaced by a legitimate auto detailing business. The abandoned fast food chicken place has been purchased and is now an attractive coffee house serving the community. On the trash-strewn vacant lots where drug addicts stashed their wares and prostitutes carried on their trade now stand three charming, newly constructed homes occupied by active neighbor-leaders. Timid neighbors have ventured out from behind their dead-bolted doors and have formed a neighborhood association. The police, encouraged by the community support, have established walking beat patrols that create a feeling of safety and that interrupt the open flow of illegal transactions. Children now skip down the sidewalks free from the fear of getting caught in the crossfire of a deadly drug economy. An amazing new vitality has sprung to life in this once desperate place. How could such transformation happen so quickly when for so many years crime had free reign here?
As I said a year ago, "Life on the corner of Second Avenue and Boulevard Drive is determined by two critical factors: occupation and leadership. Those who occupy the land at this strategic community crossroad and the type of leadership they exert will determine its quality of life. In religious terms, we might describe this as the practical theology of occupation. It is about the strategic redeployment of the saints." The people of faith and the resources they bring are indeed having a visible and dramatic impact here.
But what about the drug dealers that have been displaced from this corner? Are we not simply pushing them and their deadly business into another community? Not really. The kingpin, in order to conduct a successful operation must create an entire network of hosts, sentries, runners, small dealers as well as a steady drug supply and regular customers. Left undisturbed, this economy will flourish and spread over an ever expanding area. But when a community turns the spotlight on "problem" houses and police presence interrupts the flow of traffic, drug business drops off and its support network soon unravels. Admittedly, the kingpin will likely go elsewhere but many of those welfare moms and neighborhood youth who have been seduced by easy money into his sinister economy he will discard. This provides a golden opportunity to offer new and positive alternatives to these who are left behind. It becomes a moment of redemptive opportunity.
Once again, that's where the new neighbor-leaders come in. Darryl Jones, for instance, a new home owner and chaplain to the local high school athletic teams, is one of our Atlanta Youth Project's key staff. Darryl, as soon as he and his family moved into the neighborhood, started building relationships with street youth who were part of the fall-out of the declining drug enterprise. Basketball teams, pizza parties, out of town trips, and just hanging around on his porch are some of the ways he is pulling them into a new circle of friends and introducing them to the life of faith in Christ.
The coming months will be critically important for the youth in East Lake and in the other "beachheads" where we are forging redemptive relationships with young people (and their families) who are at risk. We need our supporting partners again this summer to provide sponsorships so that every child with whom we are involved (and there are nearly 400 of them!) can experience a rich diet of personal affirmation and spiritual nurture. A camp sponsorship of $90 will provide a young person a full summer of enriching activities. You may want to consider asking your Sunday school class or business associates to join you. These are strategic investments at a very important time.
Grateful to be your partner in service, Bob Lupton President