For Lewis A. King, giving back to his community is a calling. It’s why he became a barber and then an ordained minister. It’s why he got involved with the Ten Point Coalition and why he started King’s Community Outreach.
“If I go back over my life, I can see the pieces being put together and the people He’s placed in my life to mentor me and get me to where I am today. He’s providing opportunities to serve, and I really believe that serving the community is the number one reason why I’m here,” King says. “When we realize our purpose, we can let a lot of tangible things in life go, material things. And you can find joy and happiness right in the places He puts you.”
King’s quest to make his hometown of Fort Wayne a better place began decades ago, when he realized that people had needs that simply weren’t being met.
“I had this irresistible urge to see the community change, so I started to ask questions of my barbershop customers, ‘What can we do in order to create change within the community?’ Over the course of the years I began to realize that community change had to start with me.”
King launched a small Bible study in his barbershop, and out of that, an idea grew. He wanted to find a way to reach more people, to impact their lives in more significant ways and to especially spread a message of hope to young African-American boys stuck in cycles of poverty or abuse.
“It’s sad when I hear people say, ‘Well, they made the choice.’ Kids don’t have a choice. Kids who are in these types of environments, they are not choosing what the adults are doing. And we all ought to operate with forgiveness. Even if they’ve fallen down, we ought to be able to wrap our arms around them and give them the grace that the Lord has given us,” King says passionately.
King’s Community Outreach began about seven years ago. With the help of generous donors, he collects items throughout the year and then hands them out at events held at Bethlehem Lutheran Church on South Anthony Boulevard. He provides hats and coats to those in need and distributes backpacks full of school supplies as kids head back to the classroom. Last year, he and other volunteers handed out 375 Christmas baskets full of gifts and food. They collaborate with about 15 to 20 agencies, churches and schools, offering support where they can.
Aside from providing clothing and food, King also works hard to connect people with the services they need; everything from medical care to job and skills training to housing.
“There are a lot of areas that are under attack. We need the social, we need the mental health,” explains King. “Once you start meeting those areas that are deficient and you start pouring into them and building them up, we create a sense of a whole person. We give them value and purpose. Then we create a community where people can love. Some of the people who are going through this, they don’t even feel like they’re loved. They don’t feel like there’s a reason or a purpose for them to be here. We are that change agent. We are the ones who interrupt their lives right where they are and stand right there and say, ‘Look, there is another way. We know we can help you.’”
Though there’s still a lot of work to be done, King says he’s encouraged by what he’s seen recently through his own outreach and that of the groups he’s involved with like the Northeast Indiana Neighborhood Engagement and the Ten Point Coalition.
“Each year it’s getting better. Our community is coming together. It’s rewarding. It really is. We’re all gifted in our own lanes but whenever we bring these lanes together, we have a highway that actually works and functions and benefits the community. When we’re all going the same direction, we’re able to help more people.”