May 04, 2012

Back in the Old Neighborhood, a New Role for Austin Men

By Raymond Thompson
For Reporting Texas

AUSTIN — Each Thursday, a group of adults meets for a Bible study class at the recreation center at the heart of the Booker T. Washington Terrace Public Housing Complex in East Austin near Rosewood Avenue and Bedford Street. During a recent session, residents Terrence Jefferson and Jacque Knight sat down with seven community members.

Bibles rested on the table as individuals took turns talking about the difficulties they face on a daily basis. The topics of conversation focused on employment, children and family relationships while the sound of children’s laughter echoed through a plastic curtain that separated the men from the kids’ study groups.

Both Jefferson, 43, and Knight, 46, have lived in Booker T. Washington most of their lives, with the exception of the time spent in prison for crimes committed in their youth. They sold drugs and were involved in gang activity in the early 1990s. Both men credit religion as having been a key factor in their turnaround. “I got sent to a penal institution for 15 years,” Jefferson said. “I feel that God put me there for a reason.”

Jefferson is now a Christian rapper whose stage name is Slim Gotti. He said that then he was growing up in the 1980s, Booker T. Washington was “notorious.”

Today Jefferson and Knight believe their youthful actions helped weaken a community hard hit by incarceration, crime and poverty. They are trying to repair some of that damage by working to provide guidance to the boys in Booker T. who are growing up without father figures.

“So many of our youth are lost to the streets,” Jefferson said. “Look down in Travis County [jail], look down in Gardner Betts [juvenile center], look toward Huntsville [penitentiary]. That where you’re going to find every last one of them.”