24-year old Willie Brown and I sit in his driveway, both of us perched on lawn chairs. His wife, Esmeralda, leans out the passenger seat of the car with the door open, occasionally chiming in to our conversation. Their two oldest boys, Jaiden and Jordan, play in the backseat. The baby, Jamari, is asleep in his car seat - our current interview spot was selected because Willie didn’t want to wake the baby from his nap. Willie is one of our alumni students at Mercy Street. He is a former mentee, sports participant, and Bible study attendee whose life has thus far exceeded his expectations, despite several setbacks he faced when he was younger.
Growing up, “I had a bad attitude,” Willie laughs. “A/B honor roll until my daddy passed, then I started slacking off just a little bit.” Pastor Jerry Wagner of Mercy Street Church reflects on the older days of Mercy Street high school Bible study, when Willie was showing up with hoards of his homies to talk about Jesus. Willie was also involved in baseball at Mercy Street. He gives credit to baseball, football, school, and basketball - “that kept me outta trouble,” he explains. “That was the best part of being in West Dallas.”
Willie was paired with a mentor, Darren, when he was fourteen years old. Ten years later, they still keep in touch. “I just met up with him the day before yesterday,” he smiles. “He breaks everything down, talks to me, tells me what I need to do, what will help me out….When I mess up, he’ll tell me; when I’m doing right, he’ll let me know.”
The death of Willie’s father, junior year of high school, was a spoke in the wheel. “I started acting a fool,” Willie laments. “Probably could’ve been something better; probably could’ve been something in football or basketball.” He is left now to carry on his father’s legacy - “I know that he’s here because I act just like him, I look just like him.”
In some ways, the tragedy may have been what he needed to take the next step in his life. “It made me wake up. It was time to care of my family, time to do what he did,” Willie explains. “I didn’t know I was gonna join the military because my daddy didn’t want me to, but it ended up having to be the last option.” He explains that he was going from job to job while his wife, Esmeralda, was simultaneously working and trying to care for their family. “I just had to make a change,” he says. “So military ended up being where I was at.”
After enduring several adverse childhood experiences - the death of his father, difficulty in school - Willie has remained firmly planted. He married his high school sweetheart, had three beautiful children, and now has stability in his career. Not only has Willie survived, but he has thrived, and Mercy Street’s hope is that he will join the force of change agents developing from the youth in West Dallas.
Willie has hopes for his family: “We’re working on getting us a house that we can call home.”He also has hopes for the future of West Dallas:
“I need to see the violence, trouble going down. We’re gonna see everybody coming together instead of growing apart.”
Willie was deployed on Sunday, November 5th, for nine months overseas. Please join us in praying for Willie, his wife Esmeralda, and their children. Mercy Street is proud of Willie Brown for his fortitude, resilience, and courage!