HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — “I’ve given my all to all of it. I’m worn down.”
My challenge is I have neither the time nor the space to cover the “all of it” part in its entirety.
That’s how complex Jim Summey’s life has been. And now that life is approaching a major milestone: retirement from an organization he’s run since 2009.
But let’s rewind the tape a little further.
He grew up on a small farm near Thomasville. He answered a call to enter the ministry. He wound up spreading the word in the streets of urban settings: New York City, Washington, DC, Atlanta, GA.
“I immersed myself into urban sociology and getting to know the bigger cities,” he told me recently. “And I found it very informative and intriguing. Maybe I was drawn toward the challenge of helping people in trouble.”
In addition to graduating Gardner-Webb University, Summey earned a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary.
That’s enough theological weight to impress practically any large church in the United States.
But Summey kept it small and ended up becoming the minister of the English Road Baptist Church in High Point in 1992. It’s a church he remembers riding by when he traveled to High Point from the farm in Thomasville many years ago.
To say it was a job that opened his eyes is probably an understatement.
English Road Baptist is in the middle of the highly-industrial, working class community of High Point known as the “West End.”
In the early 1990s, crime in this section of the city was rampant. Summey could look out the window of his office and see drug deals taking place and prostitutes marketing themselves on the sidewalk out front.
“I was making ministry with the actual prostitutes,” Summey says. “It took two years, but I finally had them coming to church, really coming in, sitting down the in the pews. I just kept telling the church, ‘receive everybody who walks in. The drug dealers, just receive them.’”
“We worked the the drug dealers. I was already knocking on their houses and saying, ‘you gotta stop this. You’re killing people.’ We were finding people dead all over the West End.”
It wasn’t long before at least two other churches joined English Road Baptist to form West End Ministries to address these and other community challenges.
With the help of a High Point University professor and the High Point University Sociology Department, surveys were taken in the area to identify what people thought were the area’s biggest challenges.
The work pinpointed three areas which, with the help of the city and others, started to be addressed: the lack of childcare, the lack of safe and affordable housing and crime.
Perhaps because of his big city experience along with the work he was doing just outside the church, crime became Summey’s big emphasis.
“We started offering ourselves and breaking down the barriers in the community with love and care and really the hope of the gospel,” he said.
Around the same time, a group of people assembled a “task force” to address violent crime city-wide. Summey became a part of this group.
The High Point Violence Task Force partnered with the city’s police department to focus on confronting repeat violent offenders, essentially telling them what their futures held in store should they continue these lives of crime. The city’s West End became a target of this effort.
In 1997, the task force became the non-profit High Point Community Against Violence which, in addition to targeting and intervening with the repeat offenders, started to offer these offenders assistance in areas like job training.
In the West End, the efforts started working.
“There is no prolific prostitution (or) open-air drug deals,” Summey said describing the West End today. “From 2004 forward, the community has been much safer than it was before.”
In 2009, Summey (in addition to preaching at English Road Baptist) became executive director of High Point Community Against Violence.
“Of the 2,300 violent offenders that we’ve given the message, 84% of them have never recommitted a violent crime,” Summey says of High Point Community Against Violence’s efforts.
In fact, as word spread of its success, it quickly become a model for others cities across the country. Summey has even testified before congress on its effectiveness.
But now, the organization’s at a crossroads. Over the years it’s been primarily focused on reforming adult offenders. But hardly a day goes by when I don’t read stories in newscasts about crimes committed by young people.
In 2021, 11% of the violent crime in High Point was committed by people between the ages of 8 and 17.
Summey says there are many reasons: from poverty to dysfunctional families to lack of discipline to video games.
“There are kids out there working for drug dealers that are 6, 7, and 8 years old,” he told me. “And that’s terrible.
So High Point Community Against Violence is working with police, the juvenile court system, as well as the school system to identify children who need intervention and help them understand “the dynamics of their choices,” as Summey calls it.
He hopes this work will continue after he retires at the end of 2022.
And although some health challenges (arthritis and “back stuff” as Summey calls it) are prompting him to step away from High Point Community Against Violence, he still plans to keep up his preaching duties at English Road Baptist Church which, he says, never really stopped.
And as a preacher and someone who’s been around the block a few times (literally and figuratively) he’s quick to offer some advice.
“For goodness sake, don’t give up and try to find ways to work together,” he said. “There’s a lot of division in our world right now and most of those dividing lines are ridiculous. We should never let any other thing or entity come between us and being what we can be.”
Words of wisdom from someone who’s given his all …. to all of it.
For more information on High Point Community Against Violence, click here.