Pastor Works With Friends and Their Enemies
By Dianne Anderson
Most people would think twice before reaching out to pull notorious archenemies, the Bloods, the Crips, the Insanes and the Rolling 20’s, all together for a day of hamburgers, hotdogs and three different jumpies.
Admittedly, Rev. Dr. Gerald Johnson said it’s not the easiest population to deal with, but there’s not much he hasn’t seen before. He’s been around the world three times, serving 22 years in the Marines as military police, drill instructor and trainer.
He said he works best in the ditches.
His recent voter registration outreach was a success, along with providing additional resources.
“Someone came and met with me, they wanted a voter registration. I said okay, the church is a neutral ground so we can have it. The police can’t arrest or do license plates check,” said Rev. Johnson of Greater Harvest COGIC in Long Beach.
He said Snoop Dogg foot the bill for the food.
Johnson also served about 18 years in California Corrections and Rehab as a volunteer chaplain in the prison system, and said he helped craft SB 618 and AB 109.
Looking at other countries, he said the incarceration of Black and Brown people in the U.S. is still at international highs. Even at last count, America maintains over 2 million jail and prison inmates, which according to Pew Research Center, is a total incarcerated population that is significantly greater than China or Brazil.
“That lets you know how our system is as it relates to locking up. It’s built to continue to incarcerate Black and Brown, those whose circumstances are economically impacted,” he said.
His church is now laying the groundwork for a Telehealth project hoped to launch later this year. Intake operators will be on site for the community to walk in, and speak directly with practitioners as an initial starting point for local health prevention and resources.
“It’s not an E.R., but for everyday normal appointments,” he said. “Someone can walk in and sit down with intake person, open up their medical file and start the process of whatever they need.”
As part of that Health and Wellness Center, he said they will have a helpline with simple intake to identify needs, and connection to resources. By itself, he said it requires extra work because they have to establish wraparound services as many formerly incarcerated don’t keep a calendar, or have a job. They have challenges making and keeping appointments.
“We’re always partnering to help the community that nobody wants to partnership with, those who are reentry [population]. We’re always looking at how we can help them continue on their path,” he said, adding that they are working with CSU Dominguez Hills around a mentorship program.
Pastor Johnson is also chairman of the board of the United African American Ministerial Action Council, covering Los Angeles and San Diego counties. He is set to expand work in San Diego where he recently received $50,000 in direct funding to host three job fairs over the next year through that county’s BuyNet online procurement.
His team wrote the proposal, and he said the application process was a great experience.
“In the next year in San Diego County and southeast San Diego, for the formerly incarcerated, we’ll be bringing a-z opportunities to the most challenged, the most highly populated [areas] Black and Brown folks.”
He is also anticipating Long Beach opportunities, waiting for a website that may host different resources in one place.
“But up here [in Long Beach] when the Black community finds out about the funding it’s usually at the end, or when there’s 30 days left to get your paperwork in,” he said.
As he continues to build outreach and infrastructure, he also wants to address preconceived notions within the church, he said.
Johnson compares his outreach to the children’s story of the little boy and the starfish, how an old man laughed because the boy was trying to save whatever he could of thousands that had washed ashore.
In his community, he said it’s about saving one starfish at a time.
“It’s getting the church mindset to understand that social justice is not just come to church, sing some songs, have some ushers do the celebration take up the money and go home. The church is a beacon of light in the community,” he said.
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