Bold action, not exclusive words, is what Kent needs to confront and tame its troubled areas of violence and crime.
Lawrence Boles III knows as much.
A nine-time felon, Boles spent his misguided youth on the crime-ridden streets of Seattle’s Central District, a way of life that got the best of him. He served six years in state prison for his mistakes but somehow found the strength to earn his way back and discover a purposeful, new life with the help of family, friends and faith.
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 fraught by wrongdoing and hardship. The congregation at Redeemed by the Blood Pentecostal Church has spent time walking 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.
Gangs of Seattle have migrated to Kent, Boles said, and it’s time to go to work with police, civic and community partners to stem the tide. Church members are asking, “How can we help?”
The group has organized a series of community walks in the effective East Hill areas, Boles explained, the first step in connecting and building relationships and trust with the people who live in the neighborhoods. They are asking couples, families and youth what are the challenges and what is needed to improve conditions.
“We listen to them,” said Ronald Johnson, a church elder. “Lot of times they get frustrated because no one is listening to them. We are just trying to show them alternatives to where they are not forced into gangs. … We want to be visible, to be a bridge and help them close the gap.”
And the walks are just the beginning, Boles said.
“I’m so passionate about this whole community endeavor,” Boles said at his church’s worship service and community barbecue on a sun-baked Sunday that welcomed Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla and Mayor Dana Ralph. “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.”
The outdoor gathering in front of the church off Central Avenue South was filled with spiritual music, prayer and promise.
“I felt like coming out from the four walls of the church, providing free food and free worship service (to) open up the avenues for people to see,” Boles said of the event. “I have seen in Seattle how the church came to help the community. … Here, we’re standing together. This is another way to empower our church to be able to go out to the community.”
Boles has established ties with Kent Police. That relationship has helped open conversations and ways to solve problems. Padilla lauded Boles and his church for their work.
“The police department cannot do it alone. It takes partnerships, and we’ve got a great partnership,” Padilla told the congregation. “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.”
Padilla has noticed a change, indicating that crime is down in some areas, comparing statistics to dates from a year ago.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Padilla said. “We are working all the time to make our city safer, particularly for our kids, to do more for our kids. … And we’re looking for good people to be a part of what’s going on … we are hiring (officers).”
Boles has a vision, too, with plans to establish a youth life center to reach out and help the at-risk crowd. Church leaders hope to purchase the property they stand on and build what Boles described as a “station beacon” in the city. The church has established a financial campaign drive to improve its facilities and programming.
“Everything you can think of, we’re literally trying to do it,” he said.
Boles said struggling families and troubled youth need more support and services.
Ralph was enlightened by the gathering and its push to help and embrace Kent.
“There are more good things … there are more people that love each other and love their community and love their God than there are people that don’t,” Ralph told the congregation. “We have to figure out what the revolution looks like, what does it look like to be positive and support each other and remind each other that there are good things that are happening.
“The work that his congregation is doing, the work that Pastor Boles is going, Lady Boles, that’s where I get my smiles,” she said. “We’re coming together to support each other, and it matters. … We can’t let the bad win, we can’t let the negative win because it’s not the majority, right? We are together, we are powerful and we are positive, and it’s not serving each other or serving our community if we don’t remember that and talk about it and act on it.”