“I think society often has it backwards when it looks at our days and decides what was the most important part, or when it evaluates the world and says who the most important people are,” Chris Gray, the new FCS Board Chair reflected. He paused thoughtfully. “It’s people that the world says are small, who have the guts to go into Carver High School and love on kids there or do work like FCS is doing, even if it’s not what the world calls prestigious -- I think in God’s economy, those actions matter.”
As a former community developer, Chris brings both wisdom and humility to the role, seasoned with a dose of humor from times when ministry did not go quite as planned. Chris Gray and his wife, Rebecca, moved to Atlanta as FCS staff members in 1998, while FCS was partnering with the East Lake neighborhood. As strategic neighbors, they aimed to integrate into the neighborhood through relationship as quietly as they could, but their introduction to the neighborhood started with a very different tone.
“Because the military transported us out here, since we were just leaving active duty, they packed us into a big van with other service members moving around the country. We were the last stop.” He laughed ruefully at the memory. “We wanted to move in quietly, make sure we didn’t look like these uppity folks, but our first day in East Lake had this giant military van that was bigger than the parking lot and beeping all over the place,” he chuckled. “There went the subtlety, It was just an embarrassing way to start.”
It’s moments like these, reminders of the teachability and tenacity community development requires, that motivate Chris to get the board to “roll up its sleeves” in supporting FCS. Chris joined the board in 2010, most recently serving on the development committee. He sees his role as the board chair as a chance to lean more deeply into FCS’ work in the neighborhood. “I want to understand everything at a deeper level. I want to understand the ins and outs of the housing work. I want to learn all of the staff’s names!” For Chris, building an equitable, mixed-income community includes some big and exciting moments (like the construction at the abandoned gas station), but is mostly comprised of small decisions. “It’s about being the right person day in and day out when you’re making ordinary choices,” he says.
With this idea of daily faithfulness in mind, Chris highlighted some of the work in FCS he feels most excited about. “I love what The Lupton Center is doing,” he said, “Donell, Shawn, and the team are rock stars. Teaching used to be one more thing on staff’s plate. We would want to do it, but finding the time was hard. Having a whole institute to do that teaching is a huge value-add that has emerged.” He also named the continued construction of affordable housing units and the prospect of a new restaurant in South Atlanta. He sees the restoration in the neighborhood as the fruition of what has been a long labor of love over the forty years of FCS, a labor molded by many hands. As the board’s new leader, Chris explained that he wanted to support those hands, and the leadership of FCS, however he can.
While FCS’ work constitutes difficult and strategic work, the role on the board has offered Chris a chance to fulfill a long-held dream, too. “I feel like I’ve always sort of wanted to be a real-estate developer,” he confided.
We’re grateful for Chris’ oncoming leadership for the board, and for the many ways the board is working towards a thriving community here in South Atlanta.