In the Big Easy, despair meets hope
NEW ORLEANS — Charles and Angela Marsalis survived the flood that followed…
After Hurricane Katrina, Charles and Angela Marsalis found their calling in New Orleans’ high-crime Hollygrove neighborhood — where both grew up.
The couple started Bible studies for boys and girls on the front porch of a relative’s flood-damaged home, serving snacks and soft drinks in return for the young people’s attention.
“Greg had been with us since we started. We practically raised him up here.”
Gregory Hawkins was one of the first children to join the group.
“Greg had been with us since we started,” said Charles Marsalis, who baptized Hawkins. “We practically raised him up here.”
But on Sunday — after worshiping at the Hollygrove Church of Christ, the congregation the Marsalises planted after Katrina — the 19-year-old Christian was shot and killed, church leaders said.
Neighbors heard multiple shots about 2 p.m., and when officers arrived, they found a victim with at least one gunshot wound, New Orleans police told The Christian Chronicle. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he later died. Police have not made any arrests or determined a motive, a department spokesman said.
“Greg was one of the quiet kids,” Marsalis said. “He didn’t really bother anybody. He would just go on about his business. If you messed with him, he wasn’t afraid to fight with you. But he wasn’t a kid who looked for trouble.”
Marsalis said Hawkins left church about 15 minutes early Sunday, and something seemed to be troubling him. He was shot about two blocks from the Hollygrove church building.
A neighbor told the New Orleans Advocate that Hawkins was wearing khakis when he was shot.
When the shooting occurred, the Marsalises and some other Hollygrove members were at an annual joint picnic and fall festival with the Carrollton Avenue Church of Christ in New Orleans — about 10 minutes away.
The Hollygrove church, which averages Sunday attendance of 70 to 80, is a satellite campus of the Carrollton Avenue church.
“He wasn’t out there ripping and running. He was a good kid,” Carrollton Avenue minister Kirk Garrison said of Hawkins. “He worked at a grocery store.”
Garrison wrote on Facebook: “After rejoicing on a beautiful Sunday with Carrollton and Hollygrove at our annual fall picnic, we weep now at the murder of one of our young men who was shot around the corner from Hollygrove church after services. Prayers for peace and comfort for his family and all who loved him.”
Unlike some, Hawkins didn’t get pulled back into the streets, Garrison said. But the minister added, “The streets took his life.”
In past interviews, the Marsalises have talked about their desire to bring Jesus to a neighborhood beset with drugs, gunfire and prostitution.
In 2008, Charles Marsalis told the Chronicle, “I saw a person murdered in this neighborhood when I was 12, so I know what these kids are seeing.”
But Marsalis said then that the devil doesn’t scare him — and the drug dealers sure don’t.
He maintains that resolve in the wake of Hawkins’ death.
“We are not going nowhere,” Marsalis said. “As long as the Lord will have us here, we will stay here. This won’t stop what we’re trying to do. We’re going to keep on pushing.”
Said Garrison: “It’s a dangerous world in Hollygrove. That world is the reason the Hollygrove church is there. We chose that location because of the need for God in people who are literally dying in the streets.”
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