He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Malachi 4:6
Recently my husband saw an African American man standing next to a sign that said “Black Dads Matter.” When he told me about it, the first person to come to mind was my friend Tyrone Burrell, the finest example of a black father that I know.
When Tyrone and his wife Laura first came to Port Huron, Michigan, they were at a restaurant with their three children, when it became obvious they were in the minority.
“Daddy, how come those people are staring at us?” asked one of the kids.
“Well, son,” (Knowing Tyrone, I can picture his smile of quiet confidence.) “I’m guessing none of these people have ever seen royalty before.”
Tyrone does have a certain demeanor about him. He’s one man I would describe as a true gentleman. Every time I saw him, he would greet me with a little nod of the head, a gracious smile, and a “Good evening, Miss Annie.” He treated every woman like a lady, every man with respect, and every child with a gentle kindness.
Tyrone is a man with a vision for the urban youth in Port Huron, and it’s been thrilling to see how God has enabled him to carry out that vision.
As Tyrone tells it, his inspiration came from Malachi 4:6: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” That verse ignited the dream, which would become his full-time work and a major ministry in Port Huron: “Save Our Neighborhoods and Streets” – or “S. O. N.S.“
Tyrone was a firefighter when he felt the Spirit of God drawing him to visit the high school cafeteria at lunch time, where he would sit with the youth and talk with them about life. This was his way of acting out his Christian faith. I’m not sure he realized at first that he was carrying out the biblical command to take care of orphans, but as a group of “regulars” formed, students for whom Tyrone seemed to fill a need, he noticed one thing these young people had in common: none of them had fathers involved in their lives.
It was the early 90’s and gang warfare was making the local headlines. In Port Huron, as with most cities, the hours right after school were the times when unsupervised youth tended to find trouble – or trouble would find them. This was especially true for a young person being raised by a mother trying to hold down more than one job, or even a grandmother, overwhelmed by her circumstances.
The students Tyrone befriended would have been happy to spend their after-school hours playing basketball, but they were never quite able to keep their grades up enough to be on the school team. So Tyrone gave of his time to play basketball with them, and eventually to organize them into their own league.
In the early stages of the ministry S.O.N.S. bought an old motel and converted it into an ice cream shop, the “Dairy Oasis” where the kids could meet. But within two years the city tore up the street, including the Oasis; God had bigger plans for S.O.N.S.
Through a foundation and a businessman who was a friend of the ministry, a vacant church building was acquired to give kids from elementary, middle school, and high school a safe place to go after school and during the summer. Instead of going home to an empty apartment or hanging out on the streets, vulnerable to predators, kids would flock to this second home and be greeted with smiles and a healthy after-school snack. Tables and computers were set up, where the kids could get help with their homework, and the gym was available for playing basketball.
It was truly a wholistic approach – physical, educational, social – and spiritual. Every Thursday the kids would gather in the sanctuary for a weekly chapel service. I would start things off, playing my guitar and leading them in song, while a grandmotherly volunteer led them in the hand motions. Following the singing, Tyrone would deliver a short but meaningful message about God and life and how important they were to their heavenly Dad. (From the way his face beamed, I’d say these kids were pretty important to Tyrone, as well.)
Before we moved away from Port Huron, I got to see first-hand how God has blessed S.O.N.S. I had the privilege of participating in at least one Christmas program, and my daughter Kelly volunteered at their “Dream Camp,” a free two-week day camp during the summer. Fundraising banquets got the word out about the ministry, and the Port Huron community has supported them enthusiastically. S.O.N.S. gave kids opportunities to take part in performing arts productions, career fairs, life skills programs, and a summer works program, “The Talented Tenth.” Here young people could experience the business environment and hone their skills through networking and job shadowing. Many of these youth were the first generation in their families to attend college and earn a degree.
I no longer live in Port Huron, but I occasionally visit the S. O. N. S. Facebook page to see what they’re up to. I’ve read about activities ranging from job fairs to mentoring of young girls by older ladies about what it means to be a woman of God.
I was a little puzzled to find that the video of “Dream Camp” on their Facebook page was about twenty years old. I messaged Tyrone and asked why that was. He told me that some of the kids in that video are now married, and today their kids are involved in S. O. N. S.
The last time I spoke with Tyrone, he gave me some great news about the ministry. Recently someone donated a piece of property to S. O. N. S., and since then Tyrone was able to secure a grant to build their own ministry center! This was a providential fulfillment of a very specific dream. You can find the full story of this and other blessings at https://www.sonsoutreach.org . Click on “About” for the inspiring video.
In one of my recent chats with Tyrone, he told me about an event where he had been asked to speak. For the most part it was a peaceful demonstration, but one young man was standing up on a bridge, waving a sign saying “F*** the Police!” Tyrone walked up to the protester, calmly said, “I’ll take that, son,” – and did. The kid didn’t argue. Maybe Tyrone’s quiet strength conveyed to the youth that, just maybe, this man had a better idea.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank You so much for inspiring Tyrone to be Your hands and feet for kids who need a godly father’s influence. Thank You for his family who have supported him in this endeavor and who have been willing to “share” him with others. Please continue to work through Tyrone and his ministry partners to raise up godly men and women for Your kingdom, in Jesus’ name. Amen.