Dreamer 'n the 'hood

From a tiny food counter in South Dallas, Delvin Gray struggles to change the world

It made Gray sick. The guilt began to build. Then one day another customer came to buy crack. Gray was standing at the window, looking outside. He noticed the woman's car was full of young children. They stared wide-eyed at Delvin. They looked like they hadn't eaten all day.

"And here she was, buying crack," he recalls. "You are in a world where nothing matters, and I was doing it out of blindness. I've seen it take people with good, sound backgrounds and just waste them away. I learned that no one is safe. A man will kill you for $10. If he wants that dope, he will go against that gun and he knows he can't win."

Finally, two adolescent boys offered him sex in exchange for crack.
That tore him up. Gray chased the boys away and began looking for a way out, to make amends.

"I said then, that if I ever got into a position where I had any say-so, I would try to develop something to rid us of what has transpired," he says.

Gray left Harry Hines and began living in his car again, this time with a prostitute. The woman told him about a place called Trinity Foundation. Perhaps best-known for its crusade against Robert Tilton, Trinity is a religious organization that runs several living co-ops in Dallas. Gray visited them, but despite the best efforts of Trinity members, he wouldn't leave his car to stay with them. He spent much of his time arguing with people in the organization, which he found to be overwhelmingly upper-middle class and white.

But he also thought Trinity's members were basically decent folks. They helped him get financial backing to start Community Kitchen. And Ole Anthony, the group's leader, saw something in Gray.

"Ole told me I was on a journey, but that I was just resting," Gray says. "I responded to that."

Trinity Foundation members helped him paint the kitchen and clean it out. They'd continue to help from time to time with the feedings and summer camps.

Gray continues to toil away at Community Kitchen, despite the setbacks, the lack of interest, the disappointments. His biggest frustration these days is the lack of participation in the summer camp, which he's been running for the past three years. He says the lack of interest is telling in a neighborhood gripped by crime and violence.

"We tell the youth of today to say no to drugs, not to join a gang, to stay in school, and whatever you do, practice safe sex. But what are their choices? What are they to say "yes" to?" he asks.

Last summer, he suffered a host of problems. Joe Pool state park--where he'd taken 100 kids the year before--had raised its prices and refused to waive any fees, saying the children were too rowdy the summer before. Most offers of help from black organizations and churches never materialized. And the parents, for the most part, dumped the kids off as though Gray were a cheap and convenient source of day care.

Gray managed to feed the children through last-minute donations by fast-food restaurants closing for the night. By and large, he paid for and ran the camp by himself.

He called his sister, Harriet Latimer, who lives in Dallas, for help. The two had re-established contact after losing touch during Gray's prison stint. Although she loved her brother, she'd always considered him angry and more than a little selfish. But she saw someone new at the summer camp, where Gray toiled alone, setting up tents, fixing food, and trying to corral 50 rambunctious children.

"I couldn't believe this guy was out here doing all these things by himself," she says. "I mean, there were so many kids. He had everything he could think of: shampoo, insect repellent. He had contacted businesses. And the parents didn't participate at all.

"It was deathly hot. I couldn't have done it," she adds. "When it started raining so bad, we thought it was going to flood. He knew just what to expect. He went from tent to tent, making sure the kids were warm and that they weren't scared. He would make sure everyone had eaten and was dry. The next day, he'd teach them how to fish and do karate."

Harriet was stunned.
"I couldn't believe this was my little brother. Totally selfless. I started thinking--if we only had men who would do that with their own immediate family. A lot of black men have kind of turned their faces away. It touched my heart to see that."

In Delvin Gray's mind, he has no choice.
"Some people do this stuff as a part-time job," he says. "African power one day, then they have their job the next. For me, I have nothing else, I don't know anything else. I will never work for anybody. So it is serving the community or die.

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