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Fairfield pastor gives hope to young men, gang members

Pastor helps troubled young men turn their lives around

A pastor is on a mission to heal the wounds of young African American men in Fairfield. For the past four years Pastor Alton Hardy has worked the streets of Fairfield and earned an unusual form of street credibility -- helping gang members, the unemployed, and other troubled young men to turn their lives around.

For 26 year old Justin McCown is one of them. For the former gang member, death was not desirable. But, it was inevitable.

"For the simple fact that I didn't care. Whatever happened happened."

He remembers the exact time life really began to unravel for him.

"He was one of my best friends. I was 14 or 15 when my friend got shot. He supposedly stole a dog. Two grown men shot him down in the street."

Justin says that's when he stopped caring. He didn't return to school.

"Like, I wasn't studying school. I was lost. I didn't have anyone to go to. "

He fell deeper into the streets. Breaking into cars, homes, and selling drugs. Then - another milestone came around 21 year of age. When a car drove past his house and began firing. The house is now vacant and unkempt. The windows still broken from the gunfire. Justin says that's when he knew he had to change.

"That night could've ended my life."

He eventually met Pastor Alton Hardy -- known on the streets as P.A. Pastor Hardy studied the Bible with Justin. The two began a journey of healing and purpose. Justin talks about a particular moment when things began to get gloomy once again.

"I thought...I can call him or I can kill myself," says McCown.

Justin swallowed his pride and made the phone call to Pastor Hardy, who helped Justin get a driver's license and a job. On Father's Day, Pastor Hardy officiated Justin's wedding to the mother of his two young children. It was a major move in continuing his new path.

For the past four years Pastor Hardy has been overseeing Urban Hope Ministries, and working to breathe life back into a dying population.

"When I walk around I see young men who are hopeless," says Pastor Hardy.

He seeks them out on the streets, and teaches them about God and their roles as ordained in the Bible.

"Jobs, health, licenses, marriage, family, home. Whatever it takes. We're a whatever it takes ministry."

And, whatever it takes often includes healing the heart from what Hardy calls an epidemic of absent fathers among black communities. He says it's a major part of the violence displayed in the streets. Hardy says the pain must be dealt with.

"On Tuesday nights, we have all black men. There are a lot of tears. A lot of crying. A lot of pain."

Pain from, in many cases, a lifetime of rejection by dad.

"We get the most tears when we talk about forgiveness."

For Justin, who is now married with two small children, forgiving his own father for being absent, is a work in progress.

"Forgiveness that's kinda hard. I'm still working on that."

Pastor Hardy has helped Justin get a job and a place to stay. His family moves into their new home in a week. He says things are not perfect, but he they are hopeful.

"When I look at my kids, I don't want them to have to grow up the way I did."

To learn more about Urban Hope Ministries, visit urbanhopecc.org.

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