From beneath the vines comes a ‘gold’ vision …

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 7, 2000

The Rev. Charles Jackson believes that without vision, we perish. Jackson, the soft-spoken pastor of Greater New Bethel Baptist Church, has a new vision these days — the creation of a community center to serve the children in his church and neighborhood.

The area, which he calls The South End, stretches from atop the hill on the south side of John R. Junkin Drive along Government Fleet Road and across U.S. 84 to the area along Canal Street. It incorporates three churches: Jackson’s Greater New Bethel; Jerusalem Baptist Church; and Union Baptist Church.

But it is atop that hill where&160;Jackson’s church sits, and in an abandoned building behind his church, that he envisions the community center.

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&uot;We already have a name,&uot;&160;he said proudly. &uot;The South Side Community Action Program Inc.&uot;

&uot;We&uot; is a euphemism these days. In reality, &uot;we&uot; is Johnson and his wife; a handful of neighborhood teens who occasionally help out; and Brother Roosevelt Turner, a church member with a will to work.

But Jackson has a greater vision of &uot;we,&uot; even though he realizes that the odds are stacked against him.

&uot;I don’t know if you’re a Bible-reader or not, but God had lots of men like that,&uot; he said with a smile.

&uot;It takes a vision to make things different.&uot;

Following his vision, Jackson purchased the abandoned building at 21 Irving St.

&uot;You couldn’t see it from the street,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;It was just vines, bushes, trees … and a homeless man was living in the building.&uot;

But Jackson said he had the vision to look beyond that overgrown exterior to the possibilities it held.

&uot;It’s just an old building, but it’s solid,&uot; he said. &uot;It looks terrible from the outside … but it’s just like us. We may look terrible on the outside, but inside our hearts and golden.&uot;

And inside this building, he said, is gold.

With the help of five of the older children in his congregation, Jackson has started clearing away the rubble. Now Jackson is working to create a community center that he believes would provide a much-needed place for children to gather, play, study and learn.

His plans are ambitious – to work with the Natchez-Adams School District to provide after-school tutoring programs at the center; to purchase computers and offer access to the students and others; to open the center to &uot;all the children of Natchez&uot;; even to offer exercise and nutrition programs for the senior citizens in the South End area.

But those ambitious plans are far away for the man who now has only the shell of a building … and a vision.

&uot;Actually, we need help,&uot;&160;he said frankly. &uot;I want to appeal to the people of Natchez.&uot;

That appeal is for donations, of course — financial, in-kind services, support of any kind.

Jackson is seeking non-profit status for his agency, and he’s beginning to knock on doors for support — from the newspaper to the mayor’s office, and any place in between he can find.

&uot;I’ve had several people stop and tell me how wonderful we’re doing,&uot; he said. But he admittedly hasn’t had many people volunteer to help.

Yet, he says that won’t cloud his vision.

&uot;When I run against a wall, I try to figure another way … not to get through it, but to get beyond it.&uot;

Stacy Graning is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 446-5172 ext. 239 or The Rev. Charles Jackson can be reached at 442-1012.