“I love people and I never back down from a challenge,” said Pastor Ternae Jordan, as he reflected on his life as a minister, businessman and community advocate. A new board member at United Way of Greater Chattanooga, Pastor Jordan has seen firsthand the value of community partnerships among different sectors; and he believes in them so much, he’s advocated for the Chattanooga Basics from the beginning.

Originally from Chattanooga, Pastor Jordan had a long detour from the area, mostly spent working and pastoring in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The desire to see young people succeed started early for him – from teaching job skills and placement to witnessing the stark reality of the crack epidemic in the 1980s. While ministering in Indiana, Pastor Jordan performed two funerals that left their marks on his heart.

“I buried two 15-year-olds shot in gang initiation and I remember seeing their friends weeping at their funerals with no adults there to support them,” he said. “Nobody in the community was saying anything, so I knew I had to be the one to say something. This was literally life and death.”

That’s when Jordan began Stop The Madness, a cross-sector community initiative focused on rehabilitating inner-city youths at-risk of gang affiliation. The wildly successful program touched as many as 900 kids – unfortunately, 105 of those lives were ultimately claimed by violence. That same violence nearly claimed Jordan’s son after a gunshot wound almost killed him.

After seeing the progression of old age in his father (and lots of soul searching), Jordan decided to return to Chattanooga to continue ministry. In the mid-2000s, Chattanooga was not the city he’d left decades ago. Jordan quickly saw the impact of a community nearly 50% in poverty. But, he knew the church would be a pillar of community for years to come.

“Particularly in the black community, the church has been the only institution that is owned by the community,” Jordan said. “All the way back during slavery, churches were the places the black community went to learn, to have fellowship, to get help, to watch the game, to eat. Those times weren’t that long ago. And, one of the good things is that the church is still a place where the community can come together and really be empowered for their own success.”

The philanthropic, for-profit and faith-based communities in Chattanooga were struggling to move the needle on crucial issues. Then, the Woodmore bus crash happened in 2016. Jordan was on the scene at the crash and with the victims’ families that night, when six families were told their innocent children had been killed. Through tragedy, Jordan was among a group of community leaders that learned a lesson in cross-sector collaboration.

“The deaths of Woodmore were clearly a tragedy that exposed other traumas underneath,” said Katherlyn Geter, church member and coordinator of early childhood ministries. “Our community got a glimpse into these lives that we never had before. People didn’t have electricity, clothes, beds. It was a pivotal moment for our scope as a church.”

Jordan continued to pursue opportunities to work with non-profits and industry experts to reach impoverished communities. As the first male, African American, and representative from the faith-based community at the table with the Early Matters coalition, Jordan committed to helping connect people to the important message with a crucial first step: establishing trust.

“People don’t care until they know you care,” said Silvia Ramos, director of Chattanooga Basics. “It means so much when community leaders get it. Then, when people are out in the community, when they hear about Chattanooga Basics, they heard it from a trusted leader first.”

Jordan has shared the Chattanooga Basics from the pulpit many times. They’re included in church announcements and in the future plan to develop an early childhood learning center within Mt. Canaan Baptist Church. He knows that future community collaborations will be the key that unlocks Chattanooga’s bright future.

“The Basics are the ‘what’ and this group is the ‘how.’”

Follow @ChattBasics on Twitter for tips on how to help your child reach developmental milestones.

Main photo: Times Free Press