… I’ve Been Changed
Another crop of C2C grads leave behind former street lives
Nationally-known columnist and commentator Roland Martin told graduates of Union Baptist Church’s Corner 2 Corner (C2C) Drug Dealers and Street Life Conference on Sunday to use what they’ve learned to help others.
Martin, a Houston, Texas native, is a commentator on CNN and TV One, a senior analyst on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” and host of “Washington Watch with Roland Martin.” He’s also a syndicated columnist and author of several books.
C2C is a three-day conference designed to show drug dealers and others living a “street life” how to reform their lives. Union Baptist Pastor Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr. founded C2C nine years ago and roughly 1,600 people have attended the annual conference since then.
Martin urged the graduates of the program to be active Christians – the kind that practice Christianity outside of the walls of the church by working to change the community around them for the better.
During a media conference before his remarks, Martin said Union’s community approach to Christianity is what led him to accept the invitation to speak.
“When you have pastors who are willing to say, ‘I’m going to look a drug dealer in the eye and I’m going to say, ‘We can help change your life,’” that to me deserves support,” Martin said.
Martin also praised Union’s approach as proactive.
“Why should we wait to rehabilitate someone after they’ve been in prison when we have the opportunity to do that before they actually go to jail?” he asked.
The C2C graduation was held in lieu of Union’s standard morning service on Sunday, but church was clearly in session as Martin preached a sermon. He encouraged the C2C graduates to reach back to help others as they themselves have been helped.
During the service, C2C graduates Warren Click and Rodney Coleman moved the congregation with song. Graduates and parishioners were also treated to a performance by Atlanta Christian hip hop artist R-Swift. After all the singing and preaching, C2C graduates walked across the stage in caps and gowns to receive certificates and shake hands with Martin.
Mack thanked the graduates for accepting the great and tough challenge of changing their lives.
“We’re thankful that today we’re going to worship with people who understand the importance of what it means to be connected to a larger community; they understand they can no longer participate without a conscience,” said Mack. “This program is designed to help those people understand that the church is not here to judge them, but we’re here to love them because they’re good people who simply made some bad choices in life. What you’ll find today is some excitement that people have a new start in life.”
Like many C2C graduates, Nannette Penn is trying to leave her former self behind. Penn said she’d been into partying and drugs and had been living on the streets. She said a brief stint in jail caused her to reassess her life. In her remarks before the congregation, she thanked Judge Denise Hartsfield, who was seated in the crowd along with several other District Court judges, for showing her tough love.
Penn, who also received a hug from Judge Hartsfied, came to C2C after her probation officer suggested it. She has also taken a number of other steps to improve her life, including volunteering at the Urban League, taking classes at Forsyth Technical Community College and joining Union Baptist. She said C2C has been a great encouragement and she plans to attend the Remix sessions.
“I couldn’t ask for anything else, I really couldn’t,” said Penn, who now lives with her mother. “This program has lifted my spirits so high.”
C2C grad Ryan Morato also shared his story. Unable to find work after recovering from a catastrophic fall that left him in a coma for several months, Morato, who is also a recovering addict, has been homeless for 18 months.
He’s finally starting to receive disability benefits to help him financially and C2C, he said, has helped him spiritually.
“It helps; it worked for me. I know it’ll work for someone else,” said Murato, who plans to recommend the program to others.
C2C graduate Robert Ross is also a recovering addict. He has been clean for two months and is setting goals for himself, such as finding a home of his own by Christmas. He credits the conference with helping him validate what he can do if he turns his life around.
“C2C is one of those place that rewards your ambition to do something,” he said. “It makes me feel like my efforts are reasonable and justified.”