Tuesday morning, Boyd Patterson and I are standing on the side of Bennett Avenue -- right across from where 13-year-old Keoshia Ford was shot in the head earlier this spring -- when a brown pickup drives up, slows down and stops.
Bennett Avenue is a part of predominantly black neighborhood; the man driving the truck -- which has a Marion County license plate -- is white. Sweating through his T-shirt and ballcap, he leans out the window, says he's nearly out of gas and asks for money.
Just a couple of bucks.
Patterson, an attorney now in charge of the city's Gang Task Force Initiative, isn't buying it. He starts asking questions. Lots of them. Fast.
Why are you in the neighborhood? (Picking up a friend.)
Where's your friend? (It didn't work out.)
Where are you from? (Whitwell.)
You down here buying drugs? (No, no, just picking up a friend, about out of gas.)
Patterson tells the man he'll give him a few dollars if he can take his picture first, and share it with police. The Marion County man doesn't like this idea, but sticks to his almost-out-of-gas story. Patterson walks over with two or three dollars in his hand and tells the man -- strongly -- that if he's buying drugs, never to come back to this neighborhood.
The man in the Marion County truck takes the cash and drives off.
Patterson and I had come to visit the spot where Keoshia was shot. The teenage girl remains comatose; her mother, who washes hotel laundry, faces a long and unknown road since her daughter requires constant care.
We'd come to talk about the prayer vigil he's organizing -- this Saturday, on Bennett Avenue, at noon, with every church in the city invited -- but before we can really even begin our conversation, this truck pulls up.
It's like you can't shake it. In some parts of our city, in one form or another, It always appears.
"Evil, hopelessness, addiction. It's all personified," said Patterson. "Think of the kids that play there all day, every day."
Not three miles away sits the Westside Boxing Club. Inside the old brick firehall is the work that can unravel so much of the damage symbolized by what happened to Keoshia.
"Come on over and help us love on these kids," Joe Smith likes to say.
Every day of the year, Smith and his family, staff and volunteers take in as many as 40 kids through their Y-Cap program. These Y-Cap kids -- who are often sent to the program after their first juvenile offense -- get homework help, hot meals, boxing lessons and stories about the immense love of God.
They work in the garden, picking tomatoes and grapes, keeping the ripe ones and composting the rest. They play pickup games of basketball and ultimate Frisbee. The boys stand when girls walk in the room and give up their chairs so girls can sit.
Recently, they made homemade ice cream and gave it to the Orange Grove residents who live nearby. Picture it: Teenagers, who could have -- without intervention -- been the one to pull the trigger that shot Keoshia, gently serving vanilla ice cream to adults in wheelchairs.
This is transformation. A Central Avenue miracle.
"They can hold their heads up and see there's more to life than trouble," said Glynis Marble, 37, and mother to three sons, each enrolled in Y-Cap. "It's like a second family."
Her son Cedric used to be so angry. He was making bad grades, acting rude, getting in trouble. Now, he's a young gentleman and scholar. And barely even begun his life.
"Twelve years old, sir," he said.
Cedric said Y-Cap changed everything. I could write 100 columns about the work Joe Smith and his family are doing, but it all boils down to this:
They are changing lives.
And they need your help. Our help.
Money, time, anything. If you want to know what an anti-gang program looks like, call Smith.
If you want to know the opposite of a shooting death at 2012 Bennett Ave., visit Westside Boxing Club.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DCookTFP.
David Cook is the metro columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. A graduate of Red Bank High, Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English literature degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. For the last twelve years, Cook has been a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...