Street life conference undertakes outreach with hope of transforming lives

by Keith Barber

Some moments are frozen in time.

The Sunday afternoon when the Rev. Sir Walter Mack Jr., pastor of Union Baptist Church, witnessed a young man engaged in street life just a few feet away from his church’s sanctuary off Trade Street in Winston-Salem is one of those moments.

“The power of God was here and he was out there selling drugs and it hit me, ‘How is it that we can have all this power in the church and can’t reach this boy right here in our backyard selling drugs?’” Mack said.

The image of the young man dealing drugs outside the church weighed heavily on Mack’s mind. Later that week, he put out a call to every church member who had ever been involved in street life. Mack said he was surprised when nearly 30 members of his congregation showed up for their first meeting.

“We got together, we prayed, we talked about what we could do and we came up with this idea of having a conference,” he explained.

Last week, Union Baptist held the 7th annual Corner 2 Corner Drug Dealers and Street Life Conference. The event featured guest speakers like Kenneth Moore, the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Stoneville.

Fourteen years ago, Moore was struggling with addiction while living at the Oxford House, a clean and sober living facility in Greensboro. Then, Moore turned to his faith and began to turn his life around.

“I had just lost everything,” Moore said. “I felt like I had to do something to save myself and help my children and my wife. The turning point was when I didn’t even recognize who I was. That journey began for me in August of ’96 and it’s continued to today.”

Other speakers included William B. Reingold, the chief district court judge for the 21st Judicial District of North Carolina. Reingold gave the keynote address during a luncheon held at Union Baptist on Nov. 19. Reingold spoke directly to the nearly 100 participants enrolled in the conference.

“You’re in control of every single decision you make,” Reingold said. “God gave us free will. We should exercise that free will carefully.”

Reingold emphasized the importance of education and the value of social programs such as truancy court and juvenile drug court. He encouraged the participants to set manageable goals and work hard daily to meet those goals.

“There is no goal every single person in this country can’t attain,” Reingold said. “You’re going to get knocked down. Successful people get back up.”

Reingold’s appearance was part of an overall strategy to build a bridge between local judges, attorneys and ex-offenders, Mack said.

Creating a dialogue between judges, lawyers and ex-offenders communicates to those involved in street life “that there is a support mechanism that’s not just concerned about putting them away but really concerned about who they are as people,” Mack said. Conversely, when judges and lawyers can break bread with those who have served time behind bars, it helps break down stereotypes.

“What they’ll find out is they’re not bad people, they just made bad choices,” Mack said.

The concept of personal choices developed into a dominant theme during the four-day conference.

Adolphus Haney, the outreach coordinator for On Wings Like a Dove Ministry — a Christian ministry for families of inmates, said his message to young people is simple: You can be anybody you want to be. It all depends on the choices you make.

At one time, Haney served time at a federal prison in Petersburg, Va., with Christaan Smith. On Nov. 19, Haney and Smith both received community service awards for their work with Winston-Salem youth.

“The award means a lot to me,” Haney said.

“On the other side of salvation, my award was a pair of handcuffs.”

On Nov. 18, Moore gave an inspirational talk to conference participants. Moore said he tries to convey the message that transforming your life is a never-ending journey, and it’s a hard road but worth it in the end.

“I tell them all to do what you’re doing for yourself; don’t do it for your spouse or your children,” Moore said. “Concentrate on you first and that way you’ll build up some selfesteem about yourself and encourage yourself along the way. That’s the main thing — to do it for yourself.”

Crime, poverty, lack of education and the current economy pose the greatest challenge to participants in the Corner 2 Corner program, Mack said. He recalled a participant who gave his testimony during a breakout session last week.

“He said, ‘What do I do? I do have a record, I’ve served my time but nobody will give me a job,’” Mack recalled. “The issue now is jobs — what’s going on with the workplace. If it’s hard for us who do not have a [criminal] record, can you imagine what it’s like for one that does? What hope can we offer them?” To that end, the conference held a job fair sponsored by Forsyth Tech on Nov. 19. Moore said education is the key to lifting someone out of street life and putting them on a better path. Since Moore hit rock bottom in 1996, he has graduated from college, earned his master’s and doctorate in theology and has served as a minister for the past six years.

“It’s unbelievable the things I’ve been able to accomplish since I got myself together and got this second chance,” Moore said.

Offering a second chance to those who have made bad choices served as the original inspiration for Mack’s vision of the Corner 2 Corner conference. And each year, Mack’s vision touches more and more lives.

On Sunday, 98 graduates completed the Corner 2 Corner conference, which set an alltime record for the program.

Mack recalled the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “What affects some of us directly, affects all of us indirectly,” to sum up his passion and commitment to the conference. He acknowledged that the social ills addressed by the conference are deep and systemic and cannot be solved by one means, “but that does not negate our responsibility to give people options who have limited options in the past,” he said.

One life at a time, Corner 2 Corner is changing lives, and the evidence can be seen within the confines of Union Baptist Church on an annual basis. Mack recalled the story of one of the first graduates of the conference.

“He was living in a halfway house at the time and had a college degree. He had lost his family, but after the first C2C Conference, his life was radically changed,” Mack said. “He’s now a member of our church and he got his wife back.”

The church member completed the Experiment in Self-Reliance program, and now owns his own home and has a good job. His gratitude has motivated him to spread the message to those involved in the life he used to know.

“He is now dedicating his life to going out to the corners and literally asking these young men and women to come and give this conference a chance,” Mack said.

And sometimes reaching that one individual is all the reward the conference organizers need to keep forging ahead and reaching out to those who need help.

“If you can reach just one, every now and then there’s a light at the end of the tunnel because you can reach just one,” Moore said.