Organization models what churches should be doing, says Crawford
By Shannon Baker
BALTIMORE—It’s no question the spring riots in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death sparked a national conversation about the rights of people who live in impoverished inner city neighborhoods. Many who took to the streets simply wanted their voices heard, their circumstances recognized, and their hopes and dreams acknowledged, too.
There is at least one person who has been listening: Joseph Jones, Jr., founder of the Center For Urban Families (CFUF) in West Baltimore. He leads a nonprofit service organization a few blocks from where the riots took place in a building he acknowledges God provided.
Jones knows what it is like to live as a black man in this urban environment. He also knows success is often based on whether a father is in the home, so he established the nonprofit to empower low-income families through training women and men to contribute to their families as wage earners and men to fulfill their roles as fathers.
Michael Crawford, team strategist for church multiplication for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, recommends this non-profit to the churches he works with in Baltimore.
“A lot of the people who come here and get help are basically walking testimonies of how much this place has helped them,” he said. “And as this place helps them, it helps our city and our communities.”
Former gang member, Eric Bowman, 25, grew up on the streets of Baltimore, “doing corrupted things,” he said. “I became a product of my environment because that’s all I knew.”
Bowman confessed, “In time, I started to see things for what they really were. I started seeing that a lot of the bad things we were doing was bringing corruption not just to our community—not just Baltimore, but around the world.”
Now an intern at CFUF, Bowman is wearing a nice shirt and clip-on tie. In fact, all of the clients who participate in the CFUF’s “Strive” workforce training class are distinguished in their dress and respectful conduct.
Bowman found out about CFUF right in the middle of the riots. He and many of the rival gangs had come together, bonding over their shared commitment to protect their city. As they roamed around, seeking to add their voices, they walked down North Ave. to New Shiloh Baptist Church to listen as community leaders discussed their responses to the rioting.
“A lot of us were feeling angry because we felt we were not being heard… We got mad and stormed out…. and that’s how we met Mr. Joe,” Bowman said. “I’ve never actually seen somebody passionate about what they did. He came to talk to us with respect and integrity … while we’re still angry.”
Bowman said Jones actually listened.
“We actually got to vent and get stuff off our chests. In due time, I started to respect and actually look up to Mr. Joe.”
Jones shared about when he gave Bowman a ride to see his two boys, ages 4 and 2.
“The image of him walking out of this apartment complex with those two boys cemented the fact that what we do—the reason we built this organization—is to give those two boys a chance,” Jones said.
“The only way we can impact those little kids is by grabbing a hold of [Eric] and seeing if he wants to go along.
“The reality is that it is almost like warfare. Some folks are going to go through the grind and make it.” But, all too often, others on the journey just don’t make it.
“Baltimore, right now, is in this really funky place,” Jones added, noting the time was ripe to reach people who want different lives.
“We’re looking for knuckleheads, right? We’re looking for people who are least likely to do it on their own, and for us to be able to get to those knuckleheads, we can’t have a team of people who sit here … and wait for people to come in. We have to go to where people are.”
Jones explained CFUF has an outreach team of professionally dressed men and women who go throughout Baltimore City.
“In order for Eric to run with us, he’s going to have to make that transformation,” he said. “Our goal really is to create family stability and economic success… and then have that drilled down to their children.”
Crawford is impressed. “This is exactly what our churches should be doing!” he said.
To learn more about planting churches in the Network’s urban environments, contact Michael Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org.