Before she moved to Chattanooga, LaToya Holloman was living in a bad neighborhood of Baltimore, like something out of Dante.
To get out of her front door, she had to step over the bodies. (Dead? Or just dead-drunk?)
To get to the corner store, she had to turn down drug dealer after dealer after dealer.
No thank you. Excuse me. No thank you, she'd say. Fifty times. Just to get to the store.
To get to sleep at night, she had to pillowcase her ears to drown out the gunshots in the streets.
Then, seven years ago, she moves here, to East Lake.
"It is just the same," she said.
So one October night, she goes for a walk. Not just any walk, but the kind of walk (maybe you've experienced it) when all the things ruffled up in your heart and mind suddenly click-clack into place with all the surroundings of the world outside you.
And suddenly, you become more of an actor than bystander.
"I was seeing so much foolishness," she said. "So I asked myself: how can you make a difference? What can you do to change some of this?"
There it is. Bingo. The magic question.
How can I change the problems around me?
With this one question, entire societies have changed and evolved. It is the mantra of active and involved citizenries, the three-chambered heart of community work, the question of mature and responsible ones everywhere.
But without this question, nothing.
"I'm just trying not to be one talking. I'm trying to put my actions behind my words," she said.
This Saturday, Holloman is holding her third rally since last October.
It's called the Loving Our Community rally.
From 2:30 to 5 p.m. at the Carver Recreation Center, the event features music (T-Rollin', Roddie, RMJR, Shawntii Nycole and Swaggboyz), food, drinks, school supply giveaways and a prayer booth.
"People can come and pray and get prayed for," she said.
LaToya is 28 and a Christian. We met at the Waffle House on East 23rd Street Monday morning; without meaning to, she mentioned prayer and her church (Orchard Park Seventh-day Adventist) and God at least a half-dozen times.
"I believe the more we engage with our youth, crime and violence will decrease," she said.
She bit into her breakfast sandwich, then handed me a newspaper clipping from her first Stop the Violence rally held just days after that midnight walk.
"People still talk about these events. I have little kids come up to me. Older ladies stop me," she said.
I thought about the recent announcement from City Hall. In a wager to reduce street violence, it plans to hire 40 new police officers and one new federal prosecutor.
What would it look like to hire 40 more LaToya Hollomans?
"How are you going to understand who I am and what I am if you have never been where I am?" she said.
The more time I spend in certain neighborhoods, and the more I talk with people there, I become convinced of two things:
There is massive suffering. War-zone, traumatic, walking-dead-like suffering.
And there is pure goodness right alongside it. Immense, life-changing, unbreakable goodness.
"A lot of our kids see nothing but violence," she said. "There is a whole lot more to life than what they see. We have to encourage, impact, pray with, empower them."
That's why I want you to know about Holloman. We hear enough about the midnight shootings and dime-bag deals and hanging-head depression. Here is a woman walking right through it all, like some urban shepherd, trying to pull others toward her.
"My mission is to save the youth," she said. "To protect our present so it doesn't kill our future."
She's not going to do it all by herself.
But it won't get done without folks like her.
"My motto is simple," she said, picking up a little rhyme in her speech. "Good better best. Never let it rest. Until your good becomes your better. And your better becomes your best."
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.