Insiders: Griffin Heights Works to Improve Neighborhood

New Birth Tabernacle of Praise
Posted at 11:00 PM, Jul 02, 2015
and last updated 2017-12-13 05:25:09-05

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) -- The Griffin Heights neighborhood in Tallahassee has dealt with crime and violence for years, but things seem to be turning around.

In 2014, Griffin Heights was named one of the city's Neighborhoods of the Year.

In the heart of the neighborhood, the New Birth Tabernacle of Praise has served the community for 75 years.

“This is a small church with little red windows, but inside, it’s a big ministry with a big vision," Pastor Rudy Ferguson, Sr. said.

This year, New Birth has been more than just a church.

In June, 18-year-old Jermaine Hall earned his GED. “I was really excited when I was walking across the stage," Hall said. "I mean, my whole family was there.” 

For a young man with five younger siblings, he hopes he's inspired them.  "I don't want them to have a halt in their life, just because I had a little bump in mine," Hall said. 

Getting the GED started at New Birth. In January 2015, Ferguson started a free program at the church to get locals ready for the test.

“Now, they can access their dreams," he said. "They can go to culinary school. They can go to TCC. They can go to Lively, because now they have access to what they want to do now.”

For Ferguson, it's more than just an education. It's a step in the right direction for a place he's called home for 30 years.

“You would hear some gunshots. You would hear the ambulance. You would hear police sirens,” he said. 

In his youth, Ferguson was intimately familiar with the streets, dealing with drugs. But as pastor, he's hoping the GED program gets people off the streets and into seats. 

Been there, done that," he said. "You can do better. I know you can. Let’s try this.” 

Despite being a top neighborhood last year, Griffin Heights still struggles with gun violence. In June 2015, a man was arrested in connection with a shooting at Griffin Height Apartments five months earlier, but longtime residents say the neighborhood wasn't always this violent.

Cynthia Moore has lived in Griffin Heights her whole life.

“Back in the days, you know, you had both parents. You had more fathers that cared," she said. “Long time ago, Dade Street was the place. We went there on Fridays, Saturdays skating. Just hanging around, everybody just talking, having fun.”

But she says times have changed.

“With the action in the streets, some of the kids are finding that to be more fun than what we used to do back in the days," Moore said.

That's part of the reason why Ferguson started the GED program: to give people a chance at a better life.

Natasha Jackson says she has big dreams for her and her two young daughters.

“I want to attend TCC back in college, and I’m going to go to school to be a lawyer, then open my own daycare," Jackson said. "I’m trying to be the one to bring my family, show my family they can do it. Anybody can go back to school. Anybody can do it.”

Residents say the program is just one way the community is making a comeback.

“Riley Park up here, that’s shaping up," Moore said. "We’re getting the streets from people who are driving too fast. They’re probably going to put some speed bumps through.” 

“This is home. This is always going to be home," Ferguson said. "It’s going to be right here working in this community.” 

A community that dreams of better times.

“I want, just want everybody to get along," Jackson said. "Clear out the drugs, all the violence to stop.” 

“Don’t be afraid," Moore said. "Come back out, and come and help, and maybe we can change this around.” 

“We’re getting closer every day," Ferguson said. "It’s baby steps.” 

Griffin Heights was not named a top neighborhood in 2015, but that isn't stopping Ferguson from continuing the GED program. He said the church will keep its doors open to anyone looking to study for the test.