The Implications of Friendship

This week I joined a call with pastor’s processing the tragic shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, talking about race and racism, and what we could and should do to as pastors. As the call went on I found myself first sad, then angry, then flat out pissed off. I’m not going to say the pastors were wrong in how they were processing. I’m just saying where I was at, and that my anger drove me to do something that I’ll share in a moment.

I bit my tongue because I knew that I would just go off if I said anything and say something stupid. I ended up leaving the call early and called my friend, Donteau, and vented. To understand our friendship, here is the back story.

My son Julian was playing on the freshman basketball team at Tech High School in Indianapolis, IN, when I first met Donteau. I noticed this guy with long dreads because he was one of the few dads that showed up. At one game we talked. I learned Donteau was the father of one of the star players on the team and that he had recently been released from Federal prison. He went out on a limb and asked if I could help him get work. I took his phone number and promised to try. I called friends to see if they had work leads. My brother Jed, who was doing handy-man jobs, said Donteau could help him. He started working with Jed. That was the beginning of our friendship. Donteau was from the hood. I was living in a gentrified neighborhood. But our boys were going to the same school and playing on the same team and we bonded over that. He shared his story of a broken family, a mom trying to hold things together, poverty, selling drugs, the streets and eight years of Federal prison. It was also a story of an incredible image bearer who was smart, had a great personality, a great dad, and a father figure to scores of kids.

Over the next two years, our friendship deepened. He brought me into his life and family. I asked him questions about life and ministry. His answers were wise. He called me Big Bro, and I called him Little Bro. Unfortunately, Donteau broke parole and had to serve another eighteen months. I took him to the courthouse to turn himself in. We stopped at Tech HS to say goodbye his son Donteau Jr.  That was the year that the Tech basketball team won the Indiana State basketball tournament. Donteau Jr. played for the varsity team. My son Julian played for the JV team. After Donteau got locked up, his son Jai’ On, who everyone called Onnie, lived with us till the end of the school year. I wrote Donteau letters to keep him abreast of the season and his sons, visited him in prison, and met with him when he was at a halfway house in Indianpolis. When he was at the half-way house, I helped him start an organization, Faith of a Mustard Seed (FOM), which aimed to mentor men and young men through work and sports. We partnered to hold a basketball camp to connect kids from my church and from the hood to make bridges and give strong adult role models. We started a basketball and character skills mentoring time in the church gym for middle school and high school youth.

On May 1st, 2015, Jenny and I hosted a party to celebrate Donteau’s release from the half-way house, his clear record and the next chapter of his life. In June, we met for burgers. I cried when I told him that I had accepted a call to be pastor of a church in Redmond, WA. It hurt to say goodbye to my friend. I asked him to drive the moving truck with me from Indy to Redmond. We took the three day cross country trip at the end of August and had many adventures along the way, including a helicopter ride over the Badlands of South Dakota. We had lots of time on our hands so we told stories and “spit” lines of rap songs we made up. When we were about an hour from Redmond the sadness of saying goodbye to our Indy congregation, the African-American community that had welcomed and embraced us, and Donteau flooded over me. I could not hold back my tears. Donteau might have cried a few tears too.

Before I moved, Donteau and I had made plans for me to stand with him, and support him, in a “social purpose” business venture: to buy homes at good prices in Indy, to recruit volunteers to work alongside African American youth and mentor them in home construction (life on life). The dream was to sell these home at an affordable price to empower the poor through home ownership, building wealth in the African American community, and renewed pride in the neighborhood. Downtown Indy neighborhoods were rapidly gentrifying, driving out the poor who had lived in them before. We planned to keep the cost down by rallying men to volunteer their time and expertise, and to build relationships by bringing black and white men together in a common cause, learning to understand each other, build friendships like Donteau’s and mine.

But when I moved, the legs were cut out from under the plan. Donteau did buy a house and worked with youth on the renovations. But the power of the plan was us working together, standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, bringing other men and youth into our friendship.

So after the Zoom call with the pastors I called Donteau, vented, then I said. Donteau,

Let’s Do This!

We’re going for this! I plan to spend a week of my vacation, the week when I’m in Indy for the exclusive screening of We are Family, and work on helping Donteau finish up a house that he has on the near west side of Indy. The dream is that house will be home base for FOM (Faith of a Mustard Seed). We’re talking daily and figuring things out. I’m planning to rally other men for Washington to join me for this week of work.

My friendship with Donteau has implications for my life. I’m about to drag some of my friends into those implications with me. I have no idea what I’m doing, but LET’S DO THIS!

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