Former President Jimmy Carter, right, joins Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover and former BET TV personality Donnie Simpson at the podium Thursday night.
“I think that in the future Shreveport and Bossier City can be just as famous for having better community renewal as they were famous when this hall was used for the Louisiana Hayride.”
Powerful words from a man who, for four years in the late ‘70s, was one of the most powerful men on earth. The speaker was former President Jimmy Carter, who addressed an enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Shreveport Municipal Auditorium on Thursday night to celebrate Community Renewal International’s 20th anniversary.
Community Renewal International was founded in 1994 by Shreveport native Mack McCarter, who said that community renewal hinges on “human hearts doing what we naturally do – loving and needing love.” McCarter, who served 18 years as a pastor in Texas before returning to his home town, said that he was inspired to become involved in community renewal work when he became a grandparent, continuing, “Every single child upon the face of this earth deserves a home that is safe and loving.”
Community Renewal International’s local programs include five Friendship Houses, which essentially offer community centers in a home-like setting, providing character development programs and educational help and opportunities for children and adults, the Adult Renewal Academy and the Yellow House, a neo-monastic community for young adults in their 20s and 30s that is training young men and women to be servant-leaders. CRI claims a 45 percent drop in major crimes in the neighborhoods where they are active. Their model for community renewal has been adopted by cities across the United States and abroad -- as far away as Cameroon, Africa.
President Carter’s speech was preceded by entertainment by the Caddo Magnet High School Jazz Band, Shreveport Community Church Singers, Shreveport Opera Express and the Centenary College Choir. The event was emceed by former BET TV personality Donnie Simpson, who was eager to get a selfie with the 39th President. When his turn to speak came, Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover was quick to get his own selfie with Simpson and President Carter. Bossier City Mayor Lorenz Walker said that he would have tried to get a selfie with Carter, jokingly adding that Bossier City doesn’t pay him enough to get a phone with a camera. Other speakers included Community Renewal Board Chairman Burnadine Anderson, the Very Reverend Alston Johnson of St. Mark’s Cathedral and former Secretary of the Navy and C.E. Byrd graduate John Dalton, who introduced the former president with the words, “He is an icon for the greatest commandment ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength’ and the mantra we have at Community Renewal, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
In his speech, President Carter lauded Community Renewal International’s practical implementation of the biblical principles that guide them. He spoke of still living in the small Georgia town where he was born and raised next door to his wife, Rosalynn. He still teaches Sunday School there at Maranatha Baptist Church where “we have a lot of visitors who come to hear a politician teaching the Bible.” He encouraged attendees to visit, though he did request that they not come all at once.
“Every one of us would like to put our faith, our religious beliefs, our highest moral and ethical ideals into practical application, but that is one of the most difficult things for a human being to do,” President Carter said, continuing, “there’s an enormous span or bridge between people who have everything that you want – a home in which to live, a modicum of education, food to eat, clothing to wear, a little bit of health care – to realize that many people on earth don’t have those things.”
By Scott Rutherford