Drive by the corner of 30th and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. streets and you will see various tents hoisted in a small grassy area. It may appear that John Girton Jr. is homeless, but if you look closely, you will see he is squatting on the corner for a purpose.
“It’s not one particular thing. It’s a culmination of signs and symptoms of hopelessness that I’ve seen over the past few years. It’s pushed me to the brink,” said Girton, who is senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church.
The Indianapolis native and his wife left the Circle City 20 years ago and lived in various cities. He said when he’d read news reports about Indianapolis, stories reflected growth, economic development and prosperity in his hometown. Five years ago, he moved his family back to Indianapolis and discovered what he read wasn’t entirely true.
“I noticed Indy was two cities. It was the one I saw on television and the other I saw when I went to church,” Girton said.
He realized the “other side” was countless vacant homes, high homicide numbers and unemployment, among other ills. Most importantly, he saw a community that is invisible.
“There are people who don’t go past the Indianapolis Museum of Art — they don’t go past Crown Hill (cemetery). They don’t come over here,” said Girton. “They’ve trained themselves to close their eyes. These communities represent the part of our society that nobody wants to deal with.”
Girton felt compelled to help his community and thought of a simple way to begin change — camp out on 30th and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. streets. Not only is that plot of land a couple blocks away from Christ Missionary Baptist Church, but also the plaza on that corner is currently owned by Girton’s congregation.
He calls his campaign Unite For Change. On Sept. 4, Girton began camping out and plans to stay on the corner for 30 days. During that time, he has goals he wants to accomplish: raise awareness of the senseless violence happening in the community and highlight the families left behind who have to live without a loved one lost to violence.
“I did a funeral for a 30-year-old who was shot three times in a car. He’s not a problem anymore — he’s dead. My problem is this 8-year-old and 11-year-old sitting here crying because daddy is gone,” said Girton. “I’m dealing with five traumatized children who have to grow up without a mother, and the perpetrator is still in the streets. We have to say enough is enough.”
He knows “the invisible” have goals and dreams and wants the community at large to know they exist. Girton tells the story of a boy he caught looking in car windows for what he could steal one Sunday morning. They boy told him he was looking for money to buy clothes. Girton invited him into the church and connected the boy with a church member who worked for K&G Fashion Superstore. The boy never showed up to his appointment at the clothing store.
“He didn’t trust me, and I understand that. He’s been let down so much in life, he didn’t think I was for real,” said Girton.
A few days later, he saw the boy again and asked him what he wanted to be. The 15-year-old said an architect. Girton told him he went to Ball State University for architecture and assured him he could help him reach his goal.
“There’s people like this young man all over the community. A 17-year-old I met wants to be a nurse. A 16-year-old wants to be an electrician. They have dreams. They’re just in a community where they’re stuck and branded,” said Girton.
Another goal is to collect signatures and encourage the community to come together as one, despite differences, to tackle the root cause of violence and strengthen the community moral compass. Girton knows the issue is widespread and covers many areas, but he also knows that even one small step can make a difference.
Diana Daniels came by Girton’s tent and said she wanted to sign her name on the list to show a sign of love and support.
“Pastor Girton is a friend and a mentor to me. He believes in what he does, and God is in his heart,” said Samuel Carson, Indianapolis resident and current mayoral candidate who came by the tent to sign his name on Girton’s support form.
Girton said he also wants to use the “Enough Is Enough” campaign to draw awareness to the blight that exists in the plaza and encourage the community to help his congregation keep the property.
Girton is prayerful his efforts will catch the attention of policy makers and decision makers. He encourages the community to continue coming by the tent. He also asks local pastors to come by to show their support.
Once his campaign is over, Girton will collect the signatures and stockpile the stories he’s heard from community members. He then wants to take that information to legislators.
“In the meantime, we have to get tired of being sick and tired,” said Girton. “We have to do something. Find a role and do it. If you have a food pantry, keep giving food. If you own a business, train young people to be good employees. If you’ve got prayer walks, go into more communities. Adopt your block and work with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful. Take up an offering for this corner, so it won’t turn into another check cashing place. Do something. A spark can become a flame.”
For more information, visit UniteForChange.org and on social media, use hashtag #EnoughIsEnough.