Second Chances: Motivational Pastor Delivers Much More Than Words

Washington, D.C. community leader, activist, small business owner and pastor Kevin Hart Sr. has not let the challenges of COVID-19 or racial unrest frustrate him, fill him with anxiety or keep him at home during these trying times.

On any given day, Hart can be found attending to the needs of the people in his hometown and the neighboring states.

In his life of service, he says he strives for “consistent encounters that may bring about changes. We want to be there, providing real practical help with what needs to be done,” Hart said.

“We want to use my background and story as an overcomer, a survivor and as a person who was living on the bottom and now has begun the process of recovery to appeal to those who might be living in a place they have settled in.

“I tell my story freely as proof that I am what’s possible. I lead with the pains from the past. I don’t hide it. I share it because my pain proves there is still potential. The message is in my pain. The power of where I am is in the story about where I was.”

Kevin Hart Sr. is pictured with his wife Darleen Hart and their five children. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Hart Sr.)

His recently published memoir, “Homeless in My Own Backyard: Living Beneath my Privileges as a Child of God,” reveals his struggles, along with the lessons he learned from God that he now shares with others. The book also includes questions to help those who may be going through their own personal struggles.

“I didn’t write the book just for those who have gone through drug addiction,” he said. “This book can be of value for anything that you’ve gone through in life that deals with relationships, understanding who you are — where you are does not change who you are.”

In addition to being a husband and father of five, Hart manages his church’s Project Empowerment Day Care Center, provides business certification classes, employs formerly incarcerated men and works on upgrading equipment to improve the quality of online services for the Christian Tabernacle Church.

Hart is also planning the next steps for his Pick Up the Pieces nonprofit, which brings together inner-city high-school students with small businesses, as well as sharing the message of God’s love and self-love in a food truck while selling his community-famous “drizzle” crab cakes in D.C. and Maryland.

When evening comes, Hart works on completing his doctorate from Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. He also produces inspiring messages several days a week for the mostly virtual services he conducts for his congregation.

He recently released his memoir to celebrate his 50th birthday, describing his nearly 20 years of being homeless and on drugs before finding his way back to his father’s church and a life of community service.

Grateful for his service

The Greek Spot, a family-run carryout in the church’s neighborhood and one of the local businesses that works with Hart’s summer youth program Pick Up the Pieces, praises the partnership.

“The program is very good for us and our community,” said Marina Kavadias, a family member who works at the restaurant. “We like the fact we get to know the kids living in the area and form relationships with them. After the summer program is over, the kids come by to say hello and sometimes buy some fries and sit and talk. It’s good for us and good for them.”

Maryland state delegate Darryl Barnes recalls a time when he asked Hart to assist with a fish fry for people in fragile communities. He said Hart “insisted on taking care of everything,” even though the need was not in his own state.

Washington Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau refers to Hart as a “no-limits leader.”

“When I joined the council over seven years ago, I quickly learned that Pastor Hart was more than just a pastor,” she said.

Nadeau and Hart became partners in the community as soon as they met. She calls him “a leader who has figured out how to do everything at once.”

Nadeau said Hart’s family established the church many decades ago as a resource not only for their congregation, but also for the community at large.

“As the neighborhood has changed and the church membership changes, pastor Hart remained that really important resource for community engagement,” said Nadeau. “Early in our relationship, pastor Hart assisted me when we rolled out Ward 1 short-term family housing to assist those who were experiencing homelessness.”

Kevin Hart Sr. recently published his memoir titled “Homeless in My Own Backyard: Living Beneath my Privileges as a Child of God”. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Hart Sr.)

Nadeau says that Hart’s community service goes beyond traditional community service.

“An example of Pastor Hart going above and beyond is in the little things he does, like sending a DJ to the annual Valentine’s dance for seniors in his ward,” said Nadeau.

She also mentioned his annual dog show, which is a big hit in unifying the rapidly gentrifying community of Ward 1. “The dog show is a fun event that helps the neighborhood understand what the church does.”

Hart wasn’t always this industrious.

While “in the wilderness” of a lifestyle that led to addiction, incarceration and gun violence, Hart experienced great frustration, anxiety, loneliness and depression. It’s why he stays so involved in leading and serving the inner-city community that surrounds his church.

“These days my life is about genuine, authentic relationships,” he said. “My relationships in the street were strictly transactional. Quid pro quos. I yearned to be that genuine relationship to those who might be in a dark season in their lives. Not looking to profit off their pain, but looking to find the potential in their pain.”

(Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel)

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