I had a dream…
This is a very famous line that we know from Martin Luther King’s Speech that was made on August 28, 1963, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, in which he called for an end to racism in the United States and called for civil and economic rights. There is a great similarity to what Reverend Leslie Smith is accomplishing in what is considered “crack house alley” with Change Happens, the non-profit that he started in 1989, all because he had a dream that kept recurring over and over again while he was sleeping.
Reverend Leslie Smith
The Mad Reb, as he is called fondly by those in the Third Ward where Change Happens is located, is passionate about not only creating changes but making permanent changes to this community where houses are filled with drug users, kids turn to crime, teen pregnancy rates are high and HIV is widespread because of needles that are shared. The dream that the Mad Reb had came to him when he was in his 20’s, but recurred often. In this dream, there was a line of people around the block, and they went into a building and came out changed. At the time, Leslie Smith didn’t know what it meant, but he knew that it meant something great was in store for his future.
Leslie Smith was born into a family of entrepreneurs, and although he learned the practice of business from his father, he learned the theory that went into the practice of business at Southern University and for years, he was in the business world until he got the calling to become a Reverend. Working for a church, Leslie Smith was happy, and he considers himself a Christian, but a non-denominational Christian. And, then he was fired, but the fire of that dream he had been having was burning bright inside him, and he took that flame and bought some of the crack houses in the Third Ward and started Change Happens, which was then called Families Under Urban & Social Attack.
His goal? To empower these families and children to learn to help themselves and initiate change in the neighborhood that was very similar to the one he grew up in in Louisiana. Leslie Smith started working out of temporary trucks on an empty lot that he bought with one program and slowly as change happens, his dreams have become a reality.
Change Happens finished their headquarters, which is located in the middle of the Third Ward in 2005. This three story building is surrounded by homes and land that is mostly owned by the organization and has been rebuilt by Leslie Smith and his non-profit. There is a lovely park, a garden that the neighborhood kids plant, homes that offer affordable rent, where the air conditioners are locked in cages on the roofs so they can’t be stolen for money. Change Happens isn’t just about making a change in the lives of the people who live in the community, but in the environment where people live.
The programs that Change Happens offers range from after-school programs that have computer stations, art rooms, and a small auditorium. There are teachers to help with homework and a science building for experiments. The organization goes into schools and educates kids on body image, self-love, HIV, teen pregnancy, drugs and life skills. Change Happens works with juvenile’s who are in the system and help them with job training, finishing their educations and mentoring. They teach and show them a better and different way of life. The homeless program takes homeless people from the streets and houses them and offers them counseling services and helps them achieve life skills and training so they can be self-sufficient.
Change Happens has a team of people who are out on the streets offering testing and screening for HIV, as well as counseling and intervention services. Change Happens also plays a large role in helping prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS with programs for prevention, counseling, testing, screening and community outreach services. Change Happens helps women at risk or with HIV/AIDS, Youths at risk, and offers case management services. In fact, Change Happens has over 18 programs and over 60 employees, serves 13 counties in the Gulf Coast region and empowers and educates over 100,000 adults and adolescents yearly. It is considered to be the premier provider for family focused non-profits located in the state of Texas and the city of Houston.
Black Restaurant Week and Change Happens
Black Restaurant Week will be donating a portion of every meal to Change Happens during the week of April 3 – April 10. So don’t just go and grab a great meal, help support a great cause!
I had a dream and in this dream, I’m not just changing lives, but changing the environment. This community is where change happens. By helping people here and giving them life skills to be able to support themselves, or go to college and educate themselves, they are returning and teaching in the schools here and building businesses and cleaning up the neighborhood, which is making this a better community for future generations. This is how change happens. We are giving them the tools, and they are making the changes happen.