Myron Pierce knows most people in Colorado Springs haven’t heard of him, and that’s OK. He’s been busy for the past two years, laying the groundwork for earning a place at the table with community leaders, waiting for his chance to make the best-possible first impression.
That moment arrived last Friday in an unlikely setting, the Glen Eyrie Conference Center on the secluded 800-acre estate of Gen. William J. Palmer.
About 50 local business and political figures had gathered for a day-long session, mainly to evaluate the outcomes of their participation in the annual Regional Leaders Trips to Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Portland, Ore.; Omaha, Neb.; and Salt Lake City.
But part of the agenda was facing our own community issues, as well as learning from others — and realizing what might have been missed in those other cities.
That’s why Myron Pierce was asked to bring his story to the group at Glen Eyrie. Pierce moved here two years ago from his hometown of Omaha, after saying God had sent him a message: “Go to Colorado, plant a church and reach the city.”
He tells the story of stopping at a Starbucks in north Colorado Springs and asking what areas of the city to avoid. The barista rattled off a list of streets on the southeast side — Chelton, Fountain, Airport, Hancock — saying that was the most dangerous part “where you definitely don’t want to live.”
Instantly, Pierce said, he knew that area would be his destination. He started the Passion City Church, which has no building but meets at Carmel Middle School — just south of the Chelton-Fountain intersection, in the middle of his target area.
Still, this audience at Glen Eyrie needed to know where he came from. In fact, Pierce laughed as he described Omaha, talking directly to the local contingent who went there in April 2013.
“But you didn’t see the Omaha I know,” Pierce said, talking about the gangs, drugs and crime, barriers to minorities, “no opportunities … just trauma and hopelessness.”
[pullquote]“What we don’t need is everybody holding hands and singing Kumbayah, because that says nothing is wrong.”[/pullquote]He recalled being a “gang-banger” at 13, getting into more and more trouble, with friends and relatives being murdered all around. He landed in prison, got out, committed armed robbery and returned to prison at 19, facing 14 to 30 years — and then found God.
He served seven years, was released and began working to change Omaha one neighborhood at a time, as part of a ministry, and also as a church pastor.
Then, in late 2012, came the inspiration to move to Colorado.
He and his wife have been working in southeast Colorado Springs, just as in Omaha, doing what he calls “street outreach.” In recent months, Pierce also has become a local entrepreneur, starting his own small business, Front Range Detailing, and now he’s building a second business around party rentals.
The detailing business, which began from scratch in July, now has “seven detailers, three sales people and 20 [business] clients, and we’re grossing $10,000 a month,” Pierce said. He also talked about his hiring philosophy: He wants people with prison records, who have to answer “yes” about having committed a felony, so he can help them as others helped him.
On this day, standing before many of Colorado Springs’ prominent leaders, Pierce made a bigger case. He’s being included in conversations and planning for broader community efforts. And he has an endless supply of ideas.
For example, Pierce is organizing what he calls “Feeds for Understanding,” hopefully one event per quarter with an emphasis on eating (“you white folks can have some fried chicken and watermelon”) followed by conversations about how to deal with the city’s problems.
“But what we don’t need is everybody holding hands and singing Kumbayah,” Pierce said, “because that says nothing is wrong. We need to work together to find solutions.”
It’s so refreshing, mainly because it’s all so real, like a slap of reality to the face of Colorado Springs.
And by the time he was done, some of those leaders were wondering if one of their future “trips” should be to our own most disadvantaged areas — Myron Pierce’s part of town — where they might learn a lot more than by visiting big businesses and tourist attractions.
First, though, we’re on the right track simply by giving Pierce, and others like him, a chance to be heard. He’s seriously trying to change the world — with his church, his businesses and his growing ties to people and groups with the resources to help.
We can talk about economic development all we want. But we won’t find any challenge more important than trying to build up the most depressed area of Colorado Springs.
And the more people who can hear Myron Pierce’s story and embrace the real problems in our midst, the better.