Washington pastor bats for Planters Hall youth
Reverend Denise Braxton Brown Smith was not born in Jamaica. In fact, she has no affiliation to the country except a heart that is linked irrecoverably with some unemployed youth in the community of Planters Hall in St Catherine.
Reaching out to Family & Religion, the pastor, who was born in Washington, DC, in the United States, came to the island for the first time in June this year to head the Wrights Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, and is fired up with helping them out of their despair.
"We have started a youth group that is held every fourth Friday and the goal is to allow them a safe place to talk about their issues and their needs," Smith shared.
She said that for some of them, "every single day they know of someone who has been killed; some are even wondering if they will be the next," she said.
There are two desires that are close to the hearts of the youth with whom she interacts, and Smith is committed to help making them happen: to be gainfully employed, as well as have a football field where they can play.
Smith shared that 'the wrong address' mentality is hampering them as she has even sent out letters on their behalf to housing developers in the area, without even receiving an acknowledgement.
She has even created a skills bank database, but, so far, there have been no takers.
They are already helping themselves to fulfil their other dream - a football field.
Having been given permission to use the church space - the youth set about for over four days de-bushing the land for their use.
"Right now, it's just the raw land. They have no facility and I plan on getting them gears and football. But I am hoping persons or an organisation will partner with me to allow them this recreational activity," she said.
"I need a bulldozer to come in and clear the field. I would be grateful if I get help with the programme," is the earnest wish from her.
Having worked in the States in the prison system, where she trained inmates for their re-entry into the communities, she said she is using the same principles (although they are not ex-cons) to make an impression on these young people, showing them that they can be catalyst for change in their community.
Though a pastor, she said preaching is not what they need right now - she wants to show them love in action.
"They need to be able to see that in the world, people are the same everywhere; they want to be loved and appreciated," she said.
Smith said the hope is to leave a legacy in the church community. The pastor also plans on buying some dolls for the little girls in the community as, she said, she is tired of seeing them with dolls that are not representational of them - a reason she gives for some of them taking up the bleaching habit.