, , , , ,

Operation Eastgate - The Rev. Cedric Hayes relays the gospel to church members on a Monday night at Gloryland Baptist Church. (photo by Sitton)

Operation Eastgate – The Rev. Cedric Hayes relays the gospel to church members on a Monday night at Gloryland Baptist Church. (photo by Sitton)

Targets Crime, Violence, Proselytizes Gang Members

   The Rev. Cedric Hayes, pastor of Gloryland Baptist Church at 620 E. 15th St. and Pine, said the church is making an effort to change the stigma of crime and violence associated with Eastgate. He said Gloryland is not a traditional church.

   “We have to make changes here and we have to make them now. We can’t wait until it gets real bad,” Hayes said. “Enough money has been dumped into this community. Money is not the answer. We need manpower.”

   Hayes said the church, which is located near the heart of the project, has only been open since the beginning of the year.

   However, he said, “We’ve run into things the average church never sees. We’re getting people out of jail and taking others to jail.”

   Hayes told of one man who joined the church on a Sunday and whose photograph was in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as one of “Pulaski County’s Most Wanted” on Monday. Hayes said at the man’s request, he turned him over to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department.

Church v. Gangs

   Hayes said gang problems are primary caused by a lack of job opportunities for members, most of whom are 13 to 16 years old. Hayes said there are three attractions to teenagers who join the gangs: discipline, acceptance and unity. Those same three elements are in a family, but most families in the Eastgate area are dysfunctional, he said.

   Hayes said the church is working to get gang members off the street. The church provides discipline and acceptance, and teaches unity, he said. Hayes said the church is trying to replace idleness by:

  • giving support. He said there is someone to relate to the ex-gang members in the church;
  • sponsoring activities. Hayes said the church is sponsoring girls’ softball and three teams in three different boys’ basketball leagues. He also wants to start a boxing league as a legitimate way to relieve aggression; and
  • helping gang members to relocate from the area. Hayes said the church is attempting to provide housing in other parts of town, or in different cities and states. He said he believes gang members stay in trouble because they are visible.

   “Sometimes the police pick them up and they’ve not done anything, although some have,” Hayes said. “They’ve done so much that society is not going to leave them alone.”

   Hayes said his goal is to create jobs for the members such as car detail work, house painting and lawn care. He is also seeking donations of computer equipment. Hayes said the women include people with secretarial skills who could do bookkeeping, word processing and accounting jobs. He said he believes that sometimes they are overlooked for jobs because of where they live and how they are dressed.

   Narium “Nay-Nay” Williams, 16, joined a gang three years ago because of a need for acceptance. She attends North Little Rock High School. Williams left the gang after she stopped by the church on her way to a party. She said someone began witnessing to her and invited her to come inside.

   “I realized my life was going the wrong way. I was living my life way too fast,” Williams said.

   Since leaving the gang, Williams said her home life has improved, and she does not drink, use drugs or attend all-night parties anymore. Williams said she’ would still be on the streets with “my whole life wasted” without the church.

   Another former gang member, 18-year-old Reginald “Roach” Stewart, was a member of the “Bitch Dogs” posse for approximately two years. Stewart had been in trouble with the law for possession of a concealed weapon, trespassing, criminal mischief, assault, destruction of property, and breaking and entering, among other offenses.

   Stewart grew up in church and returned when he tired of the gang lifestyle.

   “It got to the point where all of that got old. I decided the first and only person I could turn to is God,” Stewart said. “Right now I can have someone to talk to in a positive way and get positive advice instead of go shoot them or kill them all. I’d rather have God on my side than any of these boys out in the street.”

   Stewart said in church he can relax, be happy and have better things to do. He believes he would be dead had he not gotten out of the gang. Three of his friends have been killed and 30 to 40 other friends are in the penitentiary.

   Stewart said he believes his friends would be happy to see him in church and would be even happier were they to join the church. He has received his G.E.D. and is planning to pursue a career in respiratory therapy through Pulaski Vo-Tech in the fall.

   Stewart said an increase in area police patrols is not the answer to gang problems.

   “Those kids have no respect for the law, but most of them were brought up respecting God,” Stewart said. “This church is the best thing for the neighborhood or any other neighborhood in Little Rock or North Little Rock.”

   Hayes said Eastgate is not as bad as some people believe. Gloryland’s approach is to convince gang members that they’ve been told lies.

   “There is an old cliche’ of ‘once you’re in, you can’t get out.’ Who told them they can’t get out?” Hayes asked. “(Stewart) is out and he is not dead and not in prison. Somebody told them a lie.”

   Hayes met an Original Gangster Crip (OGC), which is a top leader of the gang. He asked the OGC who made the ketchup in the bottle he held, and the OGC replied Heinz. Hayes said it can be assumed Heinz is the original and all others are imitations. He then told the OGC there have been gangs before him and Hayes.

   “That means you’re not the original, you’re an imitation,” Hayes said. “The thing is they’re pushing other people’s dope. They don’t have the planes to bring it in from Columbia or the trucks to bring it in to the inner city. So whose dope is it?

   “(The gang members) are just little people trying to make an extra buck because there are not any jobs available. They’re making somebody else rich. They will kill a man over a rag that happens to be a particular color when we know nothing of this person or (his) background. They will take a gun and blow him away for what? It doesn’t make any sense.”

   Although the church encourages gang members to attend services and join the congregation, Hayes said it regulates their behavior. While in the church, the gangs:

  • are not allowed to throw signs;
  • are not allowed to wear colors;
  • are required to show respect to women and, especially, adults;
  • are not allowed to express negative attitudes by putting others down.

   Hayes has given some gang members “a piece of his mind” and they left, but came back.

   “We meet the people where they are. When they come in and see the members in blue jeans and jump suits it relaxes them,” Hayes said. “A lot of people don’t come to church because they don’t have the dress. When they come here, nobody looks at them funny; everybody looks like them.”

The Beginnings

   Hayes was working at a Pine Bluff Christian radio station when he said God put it in his heart to start the church in the neighborhood where he lived for 20 years.

   When the church began, Hayes said there was a plan and seven members, but no building. A friend told him the building at 620 E. 15th St. and Pine was vacant. Hayes met the owner and negotiated a lease. The city provided lights for the block free of charge.

   “Little did we know that this was an actual crack corner. But since then, very little crack has been sold on this corner,” Hayes said. “There is always that possibility of getting killed. God means that much to me. If it costs me my life to save others, it is OK. The Bible says for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

To The Council

   Hayes and his entourage attended the Feb. 8 City Council meeting to discuss “Operation:Eastgate” with aldermen and Mayor Pat Hays. Hayes told the aldermen the operation will target the project areas of Eastgate, Silver City Courts and Hemlock Courts. It is designed to take homeless people, drug addicts and gang members off the streets.

   The church is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Hayes asked the council to help fund a duplex for emergency housing and a soup kitchen.

   But perhaps Karen Hayes, the pastor’s wife, best described the purpose of the program.

   “There is a problem in our city. More people are going to be hurt if something is not done about it,” Mrs. Hayes said. “We must interact with the individuals causing the problems. We don’t mind getting our hands dirty … If you don’t want to go into these communities, then help us that will go into these communities.”

   City Attorney Randy Morley said the state constitution prohibits the city from donating money to charitable organizations in Article 12, Section five. Hayes said the church has received favorable community response after its appeal to the council. Everything in the church has been donated by individuals and local businesses, he said.

   A church in Redfield donated choir benches, National Home Center donated lumber, Twin City Bank made a financial donation, a music company donated instruments, and the North Little Rock Housing Authority has made contributions.

   Hayes said the church served a meal to people in the Eastgate neighborhood Jan. 1 and was featured on KATV, Channel 7. The church is working on a daycare in the projects, and is currently applying for certification.

   Hayes is approaching businesses about vacant properties the church might be able to obtain. The church is also working on grants for G.E.D. tutoring as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Schools are asking Hayes to speak to the students. He said the children are disrespectful, not interested in school and attacking teachers, among other problems.

   “They’ve taken the Bible and prayer out of schools and out of the ballgames. We need to go back to basics. We want to go into the schools; if they call us, we’re going,” Hayes said. “When kids learn values, they learn morals; then comes respect.”

   Stewart said the church is growing every day, but it needs financial help.

   “We have only one bathroom (in the church) and we need transportation,” he said. “We need funds to keep on with what we’re doing and do it in a better way. This church has come a long way and has an even longer way to go.”

   Hayes said the church needs passenger vans to transport the children. There are activities to keep the children busy such as skating in Pine Bluff, but currently the church has to load the children “one on top of the other” in cars to take them anywhere. The church feeds the neighborhood children every day from 4:30 to 7 p.m., but it needs freezers to keep the food from spoiling.

   Eastgate resident Terri Dorn, the 26-year-old church cook, said the church has made a big difference in her neighborhood. She said no other churches have preached the gospel in projects with the exception of the Jehovah Witnesses.

   “A lot of kids are in jail or getting killed,” Dorn said. “The boys want out of the gangs and want peace. They are coming to the church to find it. We give all the glory to God. If it were not for God, we wouldn’t be here.”

   Dorn said she used to go to clubs all of the time, but now she uses her energies in the church and in witnessing. She said the majority of the violence in the Eastgate area came from people living outside of the project.

   Hayes said the Housing Authority has helped curb the violence in the area by placing a police sub-station in the housing project. His job concerns filling the area’s spiritual needs. The church sponsors all-night lock-ins once a month to keep kids off the streets during the weekends. Hayes said the lock-ins will be held every weekend once summer begins. People are getting saved everyday, not just on Sundays, he said.

   “If they want to accept Jesus Christ, we will take them anytime. They get instant peace,” he said. “They pass by out of curiosity, but once they come in, every one of them say ‘I just really feel safe here.'”

022593       Gloryland does not cover its windows, allowing the community to see what is happening inside. Hayes said members of the Eastgate community must pass the church to get to a convenience store.

   “Our problems as Christians is we’re not open enough so people can see. Everything here is in the open. They can understand and see that we’re making a difference,” he said. “We’re not a church flying in and flying out, we’re here to stay. How can you turn back? You can’t.”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 25, 1993 North Little Rock Times. It originated as a follow-up to the “Public Comment” portion of the previous week’s City Council meeting.