Brian Herron has lived and breathed the practice of forgiveness in his lifetime. It is only recently, after years of personal struggle, that he has made the choice to be free of the anger that often led him to destructive choices in life.
Herron was raised in Kansas City in an all-Black community until the age of 15. As a boy he learned to fight, and while he knew it was wrong and his conscience bothered him afterward, he fought hard and often to prove he was tough.
A few years before his family moved to Minneapolis, the school district Herron belonged to in Kansas City started redistricting. The changes moved him and some of his junior high school friends to an all-White school in an all-White neighborhood.
Herron’s passion as a boy was football. When he moved to West Junior High School as a seventh grader, he immediately went out for the team. Herron knew he was a good player, but the coach at his new school found excuses not to play him.
As he learned firsthand of societal ignorance and prejudices, he buried the feelings of resentment. Unjust actions and words simmered in him, and he found no outlet to overcome the anger he was developing.
“I became violent because I let the pain and anger in my life control my actions — even when I knew better,” explains Herron. “As time went on, it took little to nothing to fight someone who was White.”
When Herron was in high school, his family moved to Minneapolis and his first impression was very positive. He noticed that the overt racism he had experienced in KC was missing here, and he was impressed by how nice White people were to him.
However, the underlying prejudices that eventually manifested themselves in that first year were even more devastating to Herron, because in the end he lost his opportunity to play football.
“My dad didn’t support football because he wanted me to focus on grades. My coach wouldn’t roster me, and at that point my descent into darkness began,” says Herron. “The problem was that the rage had already settled in my heart. I bought the lie that things won’t change, and I lost hope. I fell into a group of kids that were often in trouble and soon, I was taking part in the self-destructive violence that they practiced.”
Herron went to college in Atlanta, GA, and for a while he was able to hold good jobs and generally stay out of trouble. He married and did his best to support three children that he loved very much, but after an incident with the police that resulted in him being temporarily placed in jail under assault charges that he felt were unfair, he lost his way again.
“I was filled with rage toward anyone in authority, especially the police,” says Herron. “All I wanted to do was party and get high.”
Herron lost his job and his marriage failed. He no longer attended church and describes himself as “very lost.” It was during this time that Herron started recognizing that many people had reached out to try to help him. He began to listen, realizing that he could name many caring mentors in his life. His biggest surprise was that many were White. His hatred began to dissipate, and with this healing his head cleared.
He moved back to Minneapolis and, in the most surprising move of his life, he applied for an internship with the Community Crime Prevention Program, a partner of the Minneapolis Police Department. While he didn’t have the experience to do the job and generally distrusted the police, they were willing to take a chance on him and he was willing to do the same.
As his understanding of police work grew, his resentment and hatred toward the authority figures in his life diminished. The practice of forgiveness was becoming more natural.
“I had no fear at this point,” says Herron. “I went out with my police officer partner and often by myself to close down crack houses or talk with problem people in the community where I worked. I felt good.”
People began encouraging Herron to run for office, so he ran for the Minneapolis City Council and was elected. He is very thankful for his time on the council, and in spite of trouble at the end of his term that landed him in prison for a year; he knows that these were very important years.
It was his time in prison that finally led him to the calling he had ignored for so much of his life. While in prison, Herron was able to minister to others. He began to read the Bible in earnest, spoke with chaplains and pastors, and eventually began preaching to his fellow inmates.
It was during this time that Gary Reierson, president and CEO of the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC), contacted Herron. Reierson, who worked with Herron when he was on the city council, was impressed with what prison chaplains told him about Herron’s outreach to inmates.
Upon his release, Herron went to work for GMCC and helped create the Community Justice Project (CJP), a program that partners with churches to recruit and train people to mentor an inmate during incarceration and through the reentry period.
In his roles as senior pastor at Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis and his leadership position at CJP, Herron is finally certain that he is answering his life call. He has learned the practice of forgiveness and understands his role in helping others struggling with injustice to find healing.
Nancy Torrison is director of community relations for the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, home of the Community Justice Project and Kinship mentoring programs. To learn more about GMCC, call 612-721-8687 or go to www.gmcc.org.