“I grew up in a single parent home in Edmondson Village in Baltimore with two siblings. I was a troubled teenager and by the time I was sixteen; I had gotten kicked out of three high schools.
I was stealing and attempting to steal cars with my friends. On my third offense, they put me in shackles when I came to the courthouse because I had a bench warrant for my arrest due to missing a court date.
My mother told me if they didn't hear my case by quarter to five that day, I would have to go to jail and await a new court date. She had found an attorney, Jeffrey Miller, who took my case pro bono.
I was going to be heard by Master Joseph C. Briscoe, and everybody in the community knew that Briscoe would put you in jail for your first offense. I was already on probation, so I thought I was going to jail.
When we got in the room, he had already heard the cases of the guys I was with. Unbeknownst to me, they had taken plea bargains and I told him I was not guilty.
He asked if I was with those guys, and I said yes. So,he said, “Are you lying in my courtroom?” and I said, “Yes, sir.”
He said, “Well, son, you don't look like a hardcore criminal. You look like a young man that can go to college and make something out of your life. So, I'm going to give you one more chance.”
My mother was crying and I was beyond grateful. I left that courthouse and decided to go back to the church of my rearing, Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church in Park Heights.
I went to church that Sunday, and when I got there, I was surrounded by so much nostalgia and familiarity, that I joined the church.
Over the course of that first year of being back in church I was experiencing a call to preach. I would read the bible and see passages about being called to preach, and so I asked one of the associate ministers to help me with that.
I told my pastor on New Year's Eve night with a friend of mine, that we were called to preach. He was very supportive so he wrote down on the calendar the date of May 2,1990. He told me that was the day I’d start preaching.
This happened to be the very same date that I got put out of my third high school the previous year. It was the very same day that I was preaching my initial sermon the next year.
My mentor in ministry, Pastor Jimmy Paul, took me to start my first bank account in late 1991 at Provident Bank of Maryland.
He knew the teller, who was the daughter of Reverend Higgs, the pastor of Southern Baptist Church. We were all talking while setting up my account, and Pastor Paul asked me if I’d ever preached at Southern. I told him I hadn’t.
Reverend Higgs' daughter said, “You haven't met daddy? He loves young preachers, and he always supports them. I'm going to tell him about you.”
That afternoon, I got a call from Reverend Higgs to come and preach at Southern Baptist. I was on my way to school at Wiley College in Texas starting January of ’92, and right before I left, I preached a sermon titled “Too Legit to Quit.”
After preaching, Reverend Higgs got up and said, “Southern, this is the next pastor of this church.”
I took that with a grain of salt, but every time he invited me to preach, he’d say I was the next pastor.
When I graduated college and graduate school, I came back to Baltimore and served as the assistant pastor at my family church before becoming pastor of a church in Philly.
I invited Reverend Higgs to preach at my church in Philly, and he told the congregation to take care of me, but that I was coming back to Southern.
In 2002 he retired and called me and said the church has elected to receive me as his successor and if I’d like to accept, to meet him at McDonald's on Perring Parkway to talk over the terms.
I accepted and started on the first Sunday in October of 2002. Ten years after my first time preaching at Southern Baptist, I started pastoring and I've been there nineteen years.
One of the challenges I faced when I became pastor was figuring out how to engage the community.
The community was not necessarily a part of the church and had come through its own struggles with urban blight, suburban flight, and dysfunction.
In my mind, I was not focused on community development. I had a myopic vision of coming in and growing the church insularly, being a great preacher, and building a mega church.
But over time I started realizing I was preaching about a big God who could do major things, but I was not addressing the poverty and violence of the community.
When I sought to address it thinking I'm doing the right thing, there was push back from the community, which didn’t trust someone who was not from there.
We overcame that challenge, and are still overcoming it, by staying consistent. We had to show the community we were in it for the right reasons, that we love them, and we are going to do what's right, even when it's not popular.
We have been able to make an impact on the community in many ways, including our first low-income housing project for seniors called the Coel Grant Higgs Center.
We created a task force in the church that identified the needs of the community, which were low-income housing, workforce development, early childhood education programs and support for people affected by HIV and AIDS.
Our next project, the Mary Harvin Transformation Center, would address those needs. Construction on the center was halfway completed when it was burned down during the riots in 2015, but we rebuilt it the following year.
We have several more community projects coming to help revitalize Baltimore City, including a 120,000 square foot Health and Wellness Center. Hopkins has executed a lease for the entire fourth floor. Life Bridge is going to do an emergency care center, and Chimes Solutions Incorporated will have a call center there, which will bring about 100 jobs.
I think it's important to uplift the voices of underrepresented people in the business community because people need to know that their visions, dreams, and hopes can be accomplished.
The communities that have been underserved, beyond downtown Baltimore, need that kind of energy and passion. People who have a heart for these particular areas, having been raised in them, should be given the opportunity to bring about the revitalization and transformation that's necessary.
Baltimore is a good place to relocate, expand or start a business because we have some of the best universities, top healthcare systems, and we are close to the nation's capital, Philadelphia and New York.
I think this is a great place to rebuild and to help rebuild if you're looking to be a part of a renaissance.
My hope for Baltimore’s economy is that we will intentionally help underserved people to realize their potential so that they will be able to participate in the economy.
We have to prepare people for careers that will enable them to live lives of comfort like others I see in our suburban sprawls and in the inner-city downtown.
I’d like to see the same type of economy and neighborhoods for the majority of the population in Baltimore without displacing them.
I’d like to see a Baltimore that's a really diverse community where everybody has an opportunity to live at the level that they dream and desire. I think it is very possible if everybody has the opportunity and tools needed to take advantage of a healthy economy.”