Going South

Civics and spirituality. Politics and prayer. In the ongoing battle against inertia, Goulds bares the conflicts at its core.

In her role as secretary of the Goulds Coalition of Ministers and Lay Persons, Barbara Broussard is present at the coalition's September meeting, held in the Goulds Temple Church of God in Christ on 120th Avenue. Near the end of the meeting, Broussard arises and tells the 30 or so people who have assembled -- ministers, social-service workers, county bureaucrats, Metro-Dade police officers, and the principal of Pine Villa Elementary -- about her recent encounter with April. "As a minister, I don't know what else to do except get out there," Broussard asserts. "With all these program cuts, where are these people left? They're left at our doorstep, and as Pastor Coney knows, they're not going away."

Coney has come to the meeting, too, although a year earlier, he wouldn't have been welcome. Coalition officers were among the many social-service workers, bureaucrats, and law enforcement officials who attempted to persuade (and help) Coney to comply with the ordinances and statutes he'd been flouting. For a long time the pastor steadfastly rejected all offers while simultaneously complaining that no one was helping him and his flock. Lately, however, as Coney has made an effort to raise $18,000 to buy the land (he says he now has about $2000 in donations), and actually had plans drawn up and applied for permits to build a church, he and the coalition have reached a tentative rapprochement. Many of these men and women practically grew up with Coney, a sharecropper's son whose family moved to Goulds from Georgia in 1959 -- the same year Odell Johns and Lana Floyd arrived. Joseph James and Coney were in the same class at Pine Villa Elementary and Mays High.

A purple-shirted Coney rises from his wooden pew and gives a short, emotional sermon of sorts: "Our mission is on the street, and living there, people don't have anything. Once they get their check, they're in so much distress that it's gone. Their kids go to school and see other kids with their new clothes, their new shoes -- they don't want to go to school like that. We have a big problem here, a terribly big problem here. It hurts in our bones. But as you see in the newspaper, the county is wanting to close us down. I say, 'But where is unity? Where is help?' Now they got me [criminally] charged. We have two other homeless centers here [in Goulds], but there's more homeless. We need to start looking around and filling the need. I'm sorry if I violated the codes; I didn't know nothing else to do. Four of our people went back on the street last week. Now they're back on crack. Somebody's gotta pay for this. My hands are clean. Take it under consideration. Pray about it."

James asks Coney to give the closing prayer. "Let us all go back and work, Lord, to see that we develop this community as a power-packed community," the pastor concludes.

Back at Coney's Goulds Outreach Center, there's little sign of life under the blazing midday sun. Cars, pickups, a van, and two green Port-O-Lets are scattered about. Wires with a few generator-powered light bulbs are strung out to the tent, an office trailer, and a kitchen trailer. A pair of two-room trailers are in a state of half-vacancy: The couples who lived in them for more than a year have taken most of their belongings to temporary apartments in Naranja and will soon receive permanent low-income housing courtesy of a Homeless Trust-funded program. The two couples, stalwart members of Coney's church who are struggling to repair past lives of drug abuse, violence, and prostitution, continue to come back for church and weeknight Bible studies. Behind the trailers, grayish sheets hang on a wire between two trees. To the west and south stretch yellow fields and oases of deep green, wildly tangled tropical brush. Cotton-ball clouds gather high in the pale blue sky.

At eleven o'clock on a Saturday morning, Barbara Broussard is speaking in tongues in front of the South Dade Government Center on SW 211th Street in Cutler Ridge, just north of Goulds. She and about seven other members of her church and their children are holding hands in a circle and praying, as they have been doing every Saturday since June.

"Corruption will cease right now," Broussard proclaims.
"Cease now," some of the women answer. "Yeah," echoes a young man.
"Bring justice right now in the name of Jesus," Broussard continues. "We bind the stronghold of Satan. He ain't got no power." She stamps her foot and lifts her hands. "Holy Spirit, we thank you for leading us."

The circle weaves rhythmically. The participants are gathered on a stark paved surface at the northwest corner of the government center. Ropes flapping against a pair of metal flagpoles make a strangely sharp sound against the murmuring voices in the weekend stillness. Broussard says God told her to go to the government center to pray against corruption, and that she brings her congregation on Saturdays so they won't be arrested for disturbing the peace while everyone is working. They pray from eleven until noon. "I can't stop," she says, wiping her brow with a white handkerchief, "until He says stop."

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