When he was a teen, Lawrence “Chris” Boles III lost his way on the crime-addled streets of Seattle’s Central District.
Drug deals, retaliatory shootings, smash-and-grab robberies, bloody gang violence.
A dark life that overwhelmed him.
He was 19, heedless, drunk, mad, scared.
And on one crucial night, desperate.
Pushed to the edge, Boles said, he shot and killed a man who owed him money over a drug deal.
Busted, thrown into a secluded cell, staring down a 42-year sentence, Boles went on to serve a mere six years in the Washington State Penitentiary, the result of a last-minute plea deal and “the grace of God,” the nine-time felon insisted.
Boles considers that day before the judge the turning point in his life.
“Looking back now, I’m not proud of it,” Boles said of his troubles with the law. “I confessed to the crime, I got caught with a gun, but God still spared me. I believe he spared my life through the truth I expressed with the particular crime.”
Looking for answers, Boles found them in faith and family, which he considers “the ground and the shoulders I had to stand on.”
Boles grew up in the church, and the foundation it provided, he said, has helped him become a better man. And now that man, come full circle, has a purpose and a plan.
Today, as the 39-year-old pastor of a church he and his wife, Lady Jacqualine, established in Kent in 2012, Boles has issued a call to action to help those weighed down by wrongdoing and hardship, just as he was. Led by Boles, the Redeemed by the Blood Pentecostal Church congregation has spent time reaching out to help concerned residents and neighbors in Kent’s crime-troubled areas.
For his efforts, the Kent Reporter has chosen Boles as its Person of the Year.
Reducing crime is one thing, but providing opportunities is another, Boles said.
This year Boles and his church team have worked closely with the city of Kent and its police force to find out how to help. Through Night Walks, Boles and volunteers visited the streets of the East Hill, particularly in the neighborhoods and establishments around South 240th Street and 108th Avenue Southeast, where police have responded to frequent shootings and chronic gang activity. They listened to what the people have seen, what youth needed and what everyone wanted – peace and harmony.
Boles’ church also hosted neighborhood barbecues to meet the people, identify needs, gather ideas, forge ties and build trust.
“My focus in dealing with issues here is being more of the voice in our community,” Boles said. “I want to keep the level of trust between myself and those that need our help. It’s a fine line. We’re very strategic in that we have a phenomenal team that I work with, that has partnered with ministry … men and women who care.
“The focus here in Kent is being able to be that experienced voice in the community,” he said, “being respectable to law enforcement and the entire city, realizing that we are all in this together.”
Boles said his church’s outreach has made an impact. Crime, according to city statistics, is down, but Seattle’s opportunistic gangs continue to migrate to Kent.
Boles knows as much. It will take action, not just words, to find solutions.
“And we are also looking at the homeless problem,” Boles said. “This has given us an opportunity not only to address the violence on top of the hill but address the homelessness on the bottom of the hill. … We’re trying to address every issue as a whole.”
Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla lauds Boles’ ongoing work in the community.
“The police department cannot do it alone. It takes partnerships, and we’ve got a great partnership,” Padilla told the congregation during a summer visit to the church. “There’s a lot of people I work with in the community, and a lot of people do a lot of talking about the problems. And I want to reaffirm, and you know this very well, this man isn’t about talk, he’s about doing.”
Added Mayor Dana Ralph, “The work that his congregation is doing, the work that Pastor Boles is doing, Lady Boles, that’s where I get my smiles. We’re coming together to support each other, and it matters.”
Boles wants to do more. His congregation has launched a campaign to raise $300,000, a down payment to buy the 32,000-square-foot, $2.1 million lot on which the church stands on along Central Avenue South. The church needs to grow, Boles said, to provide more programs and possibilities, like an all-purpose gymnasium, space for a daycare, a temporary shelter and more room to host community meals and other activities.
Boles welcomes others to join the effort. He is a passionate, tenacious leader with lofty goals.
“He has the biggest heart I have ever seen in a man, and he is really big on family,” Lady Boles said. “He has used his past – the pain of it, the struggle of it, the lessons learned from it – to actually make him what he is today. The fact that he ministers, mentors, takes and shows them the right path, that’s what I love (about him).