ART & SOUL J immy D orrell
Songs from the Heart Trouble finds me, but I want to live right, I want to live free; I’m strugglin’ real hard but don’t know what to do; I was 6 years old and bein’ abused. Trouble comin’ my way, comin’ my way; Will I wake up, will I be dead? Urban teens poured their pain into the microphone of Mission Waco’s Youth Center every evening as they worked to complete their first CD, Tha Start: mixtape volume 1. From rejection at home to peer pressure at school to the brutal realities of life on the streets, young men sang their stories of child abuse, drug use, empty refrigerators, and rage. Catharsis took place as they rhymed their songs and reflected on who they were through the poetry of rap. It was painful to listen to most of their words, perhaps even more painful knowing how little we understood and addressed their cries. When Gabe Dominguez walked into my office in 2008 to apply for the position of director of Mission Waco’s urban youth program, there was little on his resume to warrant an interview. In fact, warrants were actually part of the problem. Gabe, who was covered in tattoos, had dropped out of school after drugs, alcohol, and gang violence had eaten away any desire to sit in a boring classroom “with no future.” After a childhood of poverty and lack of role models, his street life in the ’hood emerged into a lucrative business of stealing and selling handguns, his popularity among his homies rising at the same rate as his wealth. Life was good — for a while. But one day the Feds busted in, and the glory faded quickly. With a felony rap for selling machine guns on the black market, Gabe’s future looked pretty well scripted.
After three years in prison, his former gang members held a party on the day of his release on parole. It would not be long, they were certain, until the old glory days on the streets would return. But God stepped in. Through the voice of his young daughter, who kept asking her daddy, “Dad, are you ever going to change?” Gabe’s heart grew soft. He attended church for the first time, and the guest speaker that day told his own story of street life and change. Broken that day by the Spirit of God, Gabe received a “second freedom,” far greater than his release from prison. Gabe was now liberated by God — and it showed. I hired Gabe at 31 years of age, choosing him over the numerous applicants with degrees and youth group experience to direct our urban youth program. I wanted a man who would reach those teens who would never darken the doors of a church. It was a risky decision, but one I have not regretted. Within the first year of his employment, what had been a more traditional “at-risk youth” program became a high-risk youth outreach. Having “been there, done that,” Gabe knew their pain and began to hang out in the ’hood, speak at the alternative school, and invest hours among the school drop-outs, juvenile offenders, and gang members.With a heart made new by God, he would tear up when he shared the stories of these young men, beaten up in life in almost every way. With Gabe’s leadership, we chose to renovate the youth building to include a quality sound studio that would allow these “thugs and bangers” to come tell their stories and search for life. And they came. With over a year of hard work from the youth and volunteer technicians, they laid down eight songs describing their search for a meaningful life. “I need God in my life.Will he accept me?” one young man pondered. “Bring it on, Jesus, I want to live life,” said another. “God found me!” another street theoPRISM 2 0 1 0
logian echoed.And their genuine search for faith and purpose beyond the ’hood was unleashed. Reaching urban youth demands more than game rooms, after-school tutoring, and field trips. It requires presence among those “strugglin’ real hard.” It demands being in the projects, taking hungry teens out to a restaurant to talk, and helping their single moms occasionally pay the rent or get the lights turned back on. It requires trips to “juvy” to visit a kid who’s been locked up, or locating a detox center for a young man already addicted to crack or booze. It means creating opportunities for volunteer service for school or legal punishment where the “bad kids” can work off their hours among a youth staff and volunteers who care. It means retooling our programs and buildings to fit the needs of today’s urban population. There is pain in it. Some fall away, some relapse, and others go back to the gang. But some don’t. Some find freedom in the God of the streets. And some are nurturing that freedom through the art of rhythm, rhyme, and melody. Long ago, a young man survived sin and trials and lived to praise God, saying, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Ps. 40:3).Today, these young men, also survivors, sing, “All this negativity was never who I was. I choose now who I am; I want to live life.” ■ Jimmy Dorrell is co-founder and executive director of Mission Waco (MissionWaco.org) and pastor of Church Under the Bridge (ChurchUndertheBridge.org). (Mission Waco is offering free copies of the kids’ first CD to urban youth workers. Go to MissionWaco Youth.org for details.).