Mayor of Two Cities
Jim Baker wants everyone in Wilmington to believe in its—in their—greatness. There’s just one small problem remaining to be solved…
(page 9 of 10)
The truth in all of Baker’s vision of how America used to be is that he is almost 67 years old, and the lost society he worries about are between 18 and 25, black men mostly, who wander a shadowy world without values, a world of mistrust and anger. Baker spends many hours wondering how to reach those young men.
Derrick Johnson once lived in the projects of Riverside. Charismatic and smart, he pimped, ran gambling rings and dealt drugs. In the 1970s, he was convicted of murdering Henry C. Edwards, so he lived for several years in cell 17 of the Delaware Correctional Center in Smyrna, often spending all but a half hour a day there.
In 1982 Baker was asked to visit the prison as part of a program to introduce inmates to positive role models and community leaders. That’s where Johnson met him. Johnson describes the event “as more of a confrontation.”
“I was expecting this know-it-all to tell me how bad I was,” Johnson says. “The first thing I noticed about him was that he wasn’t scared. Then I was amazed at how well read he was. He’d read everything I had and then some. I gave him my opinion on something, and he looked right at me and said, ‘You’re an idiot.’”
Soon after, Johnson wrote Baker a letter. Baker replied. “He wrote that of all of the people at the prison, my perception of life was the most flawed,” Johnson says. “He wrote that if my perception of life does not change, the prison cell I live in will remain with me everywhere I go. He told me that my life would mean nothing if, when I got out of prison, I did not use my life to serve the greater good.”
Today Johnson is pastor of Joshua Harvest Church, which he founded in 2001, in West Center City. His congregation numbers close to 700. He serves on the boards of several city-based committees, and he founded the Hood March three years ago, which has drawn thousands of people to mourn and celebrate the lives of those who have died in the city as a result of violence.
In his office at the Claymore Center, Johnson holds up letters addressed to him from inmates. He gets more than 30 a week. He plans to answer each one.
Page 10: Mayor of Two Cities, continues...