Local pastor lauds positive attributes of much-maligned side of town
FORT WAYNE—For many, it’s an opportunity for fun, perhaps even fellowship with old and new friends. But, for one local minister, the upcoming South Side Fest, scheduled for June 27 and June 28, is much more.
According to the Rev. Donovan Coley Sr., CEO and senior pastor of The Rescue Mission, the South Side Fest shines a positive spotlight on a much- and unfairly-maligned area of Fort Wayne—the south side.
“I’ve clearly felt there was a need to showcase what is right with the south side of Fort Wayne,” said Coley.
He said the media is quick to blow up headlines when a crime is committed on the south side of Fort Wayne, or if something that appears to be “negative” occurs. But, explained Coley, that overlooks that fact that the overwhelming majority of people living and working in that part of the city are law abiding, hard working people who care about their community and the people there.
“The South Side Fest addresses this misrepresentation in the media,” he explained. “It’s the only true festival that captures the essence of the south side of Fort Wayne.” Coley outlined a number of positive aspects of that part of the city.
“The first thing that is right about the south side is the people,” he said, adding that the media and others have disrespected and misrepresented the area by giving an overwhelming amount of attention to homicides that have occurred there. The truth is, he said, that is not an everyday occurrence and overemphasizing crime news while spending relatively little attention on the positive work that people do everyday is unfair.
“Homicides do not define the people on this side of town,” he said.
The South Side Fest, organized by local entrepreneur James Scott, owner of TGFMobile, back in the summer of 2009, helps to spotlight the area’s businesses and facilities, such as at the Youth For Christ Primetime Community Center at 3107 S. Calhoun St.–where the festival’s five-on-five basketball tournament is scheduled to occur on June 27–and the the Public Safety Academy/Ivy Tech South Campus at 7602 Patriot Crossing (behind Southtown Mall) where the bulk of festival activities are scheduled to occur on June 28. Additionally, a number of vendors from the community will be on hand to offer information and food and drink concessions. Area barbers also will be on hand to offer free haircuts to children.
A second little-reported positive aspect of the south side is the untapped talents and gifts there. And, Coley said, those people resources are in abundance on that side of town but too often get ignored because of the media’s tendency to focus on those who hog the spotlight.
“Folks who tend to be more visible have literally stolen the spotlight,” he said.
Coley had some pointed criticism for them.
“I would say they are no more than trespassers and should move over and make room for those who want to make a difference,” he said.
The South Side Fest, on the other hand, offers an opportunity for people living and working in the area to display their talents, through music, dance and other arts, for example. According to organizer Scott, there will be free, live entertainment as well as free activities for children. He said much of that talent can be found right there on the south side of Fort Wayne.
A third overlooked asset of the south side, said Coley is the spirit of the people living there.
“The people have maintained their dignity in spite of of the economic drain white flight has had on the tax base and unsupported community school system. There is a resilience that still fills the hearts of many people on the south side,” he explained, citing, for one, business people who have stayed in the area and chosen to invest in their community.
Coley, who originally hails from Jamaica, said he has seen truly rundown communities, such as areas of Kingston, Jamaica where crime and poverty have overrun areas. But, he said, the south side of Fort Wayne has the people resources that have created a different story there.
“The traits that I’m describing on the the south side of Fort Wayne show significant signs of strength and great expectations,” he said. “There isn’t a true ghetto in Fort Wayne The righteous few have literally held back the evil that could have been.”
Coley said he wasn’t trying to paint a perfect picture of the south side of Fort Wayne—just a realistic and fair one that acknowledges that all parts of the city have pluses as well as problems. And, he said, those problems are common to all areas given that the city is one whole.
“If there is anything that is wrong with the south side, it is what is wrong with Fort Wayne,” he said.
While some might question why a minister would be so adamant about supporting such an event, Coley explained that the South Side Fest’s theme and purpose falls directly in line with what The Rescue Mission is—and Christian ministry in general should be—about. That theme, “Bringing Community Together” is part of The Rescue Mission’s focus of “creating real change” through collaboration. He said The Rescue Mission currently is working with other agencies, including the Wayne Township Trustee office, as well as the South Side Fest organizing group on various projects including the “Real Change, Not Spare Change” initiative that is designed to address issues of homelessness and panhandling by providing alternatives and setting people in need on paths of self-sufficiency. Coley said there are those in the community who are hurting but are seeking real change and that it is the duty of leadership and those with resources to address those needs.
While he said the entire community needs to be involved, Coley again was pointed in his assessment of what must occur. He said given that the south side of the city has a large black, brown and Asian population, black folks and other people of color in “leadership” positions actively needed to be involved in working on solutions.
“As persons of color in assigned positions of leadership and stewardship,” he said they needed to remember that “to whom much is given, much is required.”
He including agency and organization heads, business people and the clergy in that group saying that they have an obligation to “leverage God-given authority” and use it for the goal of improvement. That includes pointing out the good in the community as an example for others to see. That, he said, is why the South Side Fest deserves broad support, particularly from those who have accepted the mantle of leadership.
“It is important for leadership to rise up and celebrate what is right about the community,” said Coley.