Actors Chris Tucker and Todd Bridges spoke at Union Baptist Church Sunday morning as it graduated its 10th Corner 2 Corner Drug Dealers and Street Life Conference class. Union Baptist Pastor Dr. Sir Walter Mack Jr. started the conference as a way to reform drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts and others living a “street life.” For two days, conference participants received spiritual guidance, skills training and motivational pep talks – all designed to deliver them from their current predicaments.
“When I left the church one Sunday morning and right across the street I saw a young man selling drugs, and I knew at that point if we could not get the young man to come to church, we’ve got to take the church to the young man,” Mack said, describing the events that led to C2C’s creation.
Bridges, best known for playing Willis on the ’80s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” was the scheduled speaker for the 8:30 a.m. service. Tucker, whose roles in the “Rush Hour” films and “Friday” have made him a bonafide movie star, was a surprise guest, showing up to deliver remarks during the 11 a.m. service, which also featured Bishop Neil Ellis of Mount Tabor Full Gospel Baptist Church in Nassau, Bahamas. During the service, about 120 conference participants walked across the stage to receive their certificates of completion. Before he spoke, Tucker said he was impressed with how Union has reached out to the community. He said speaking at a program like C2C was inspiring.
“It’s an honor to be here and a blessing. I get more out of it than I give, I think, half the time. I get inspired by things like this, so it’s great,” he said.
The graduates started the morning at the 8:30 a.m. service, where they sang as a choir before Bridges’ remarks. During “Diff’rent Stokes’” eight season run, Bridges played the brother of Gary Coleman’s character, Arnold, whose catchphrase was “Whatchu’ Talking About Willis?” While the sitcom brought laughs to millions, the lives of the actors were filled with tragedy. Bridges is the only surviving member of the show’s original main cast and, at times, he wasn’t sure he’d make it himself.
“I’m the last one alive from my show,” he said. “That’s not due to me; that’s due to God.”
Bridges said his first recollection as a child was his father abusing his mother. At 12-years-old, he was molested by his publicist. As an adult, he became addicted to drugs, a nearly 10-year struggle that almost destroyed his life. In 1988, he was arrested and tried for the attempted murder of a drug dealer.
“Addiction is powerful. It will have you doing things that you never thought you’d ever do,” said Bridges, who was acquitted. “I can’t blame nobody else but myself. I take responsibility for my actions.”
Bridges finally broke his addiction 22 years ago and has been clean ever since. He said God freed him not just from jail, but from himself. He’s not rich or nearly as famous now, but he said he’s never felt better. He’s written a book, “Killing Willis,” about his life and speaks about his experience regularly. He continues to work in show business and has his own production company, DVFILM WORKs. He described his family, which includes his two children, as “the Kardashians without the money,” but added that, “I bet we’re a lot more happier than they are.”
He said people still associate him with his most famous character, but he’s okay with that.
“It ain’t easy being Willis,” he said. “Everybody calls you Willis, but I take it gracefully. At least when they call you Willis, they call you something nice. Willis was a good character.”
Randy Barnes and Wendy Glass, who have a one-year-old daughter, Nyla, completed the conference together. It wasn’t crime, but a different sort of street life that brought the couple to C2C.
Barnes – a past addict who has been clean for 10 years – and Glass lost everything in a house fire last year and have been homeless ever since. They’ve slept in hotels, cars and under bridges. Circumstances even forced the former addict to stay at the home of a friend who used drugs in front of him and his child.
A different friend recommended that Barnes attend the conference. He said it taught him to be “a better man, a better father and a better person in Christ.” Through C2C, he’s made a connection with the Experiment in Self Reliance, a non-profit that helps the working poor with services like transitional housing. He’s hoping the agency will help his family find a place to live.
“I just took that chance, a leap of faith,” said Barnes. “I brought my daughter here, my family here, and it’s a blessing.”
Between Sunday’s services, Fred Moore sold and signed copies of his book, “I Once Was Lost.” It tells how addiction turned his world upside down. Moore was a UNC Chapel Hill medical student when his battle with crack cocaine got the best of him. He would spend a great chunk of his adult life in prison and amass 80 arrests. The Caterpillar employee has been clean for 15 years and regularly uses his life as a cautionary tale. Moore sings with “In God’s Ministry,” a music group consisting of three men who met while incarcerated at the Forsyth County Correctional Center.