Straining to take extra care with each stroke, he brushed the last coat of periwinkle paint onto the trim of Ms. Connie Williams’ home on Saturday.
It was one of four houses in the Pleasant Street neighborhood that Gerard Duncan said he started painting this month as a kickoff to his neighborhood revitalization initiative, “Occupy My Streetz.”
Duncan has spent the last couple of years as a local pastor and volunteer. Now, he wants to use his work on Pleasant Street as a blueprint to innovate other neighborhoods.
Duncan spends most days volunteering around the neighborhood or preaching to his congregation at Prayers By Faith Outreach Fellowship Ministries, but he said this wasn’t always the case.
His eyes glass over a little as he remembers a time before he was a pastor, before he married his wife and before he left Gainesville for a new life in Savannah, Ga., where he lived for seven years.
With booze on his breath and one shaky finger on the trigger of a .38-caliber revolver pointed at his head, he recalls, he reached his lowest point.
“My idea of a good time came through drugs and through crime,” Duncan said. “And these are the things I grew up being.”
While in Savannah, he found something he was not looking for: a calling to preach.
When the time was right, he said he got a feeling that he needed to return to Gainesville.
“I had to come back,” he said. “I had to come back to the streets I helped destroy years ago.”
After he got Old Mount Carmel Baptist Church recognized as a historic landmark in September, he said people in the neighborhood finally started to believe in what he was trying to do.
By the beginning of January, Duncan said he plans to implement a program called “Innovative Dads.”
He said people are always eager to try to solve problems with welfare, drugs and poverty, but he thinks the root of these issues is fatherhood. The program will offer free group counseling sessions for fathers in the community.
For now, Duncan said he’s turned to the Community Redevelopment Agency to fund some of the revitalization efforts.
“The city buys the paint,” he said. “We pressure wash, and it’s done. You can’t get a better deal than that.”
Malcolm Kiner, a project coordinator for the redevelopment agency, said it started a “painting program” that offers community residents up to $500 in paint and supplies.
He said 10 residents have applied since Duncan launched his initiative to do the labor about a month ago.
Duncan said that the first house that he and some of his 20 volunteers painted was Bettye Cook’s.
Cook said she hasn’t been able to do anything to her property since she bought it in 1995.
On Saturday, she sat smiling on her front porch with about six family members under the freshly painted hot-pink trim.
“I’m just almost lost for words,” Cook said. “We’re proud of what we own again.”
A version of this story ran on page 8 on 10/25/2013 under the headline "After rough journey, pastor paints houses in revitalization effort"
Gerard Duncan, local pastor and founder of the “Occupy My Streetz” initiative, finishes painting a Pleasant Street home Saturday in an effort to revitalize the community.