We had the good fortune of connecting with Tony Johns and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tony, how does your business help the community or world
The mission of Crossroads Community Ministries is to provide access to resources that empower people experiencing homelessness, and those at-risk of homelessness, to progress on the road toward economic and personal stability. We seek to provide holistic services to our neighbors by providing tools and resources that empower them to stabilize, gain employment, and secure and sustain affordable housing. Each program seeks to assist individuals in achieving economic stability to meet their basic needs and remove barriers to employment and affordable housing. In the past 6 months, we have assisted more than 70 households in moving out of homelessness into permanent housing, and we have helped to prevent homelessness for more than 20 households. We have assisted more than 500 individuals in securing basic documentation (birth certificates and state ID’s), provided more than 300 individuals with public transportation assistance, shared more than 20,000 meals and hosted multiple Covid-19 health screenings, all at no cost to the client. We are especially focused on the racial disparities we see in our community among those experiencing homelessness, almost 90% of whom are African American. We work to challenge the systemic barriers that exist socially, economically and politically by giving voice to their struggle, advocating on their behalf with employers, landlords and the criminal justice system, and seeking reconciliation and inclusion for them in the larger community.
Please tell us more about your career. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you and your story?
My career began as a teacher for a private school in Orlando, FL. I spent the first two years after graduating from Lee University (Cleveland, TN) learning how to listen, how to communicate, and how to see beyond what was shown on the surface by teens who were struggling with some overwhelming life issues. This experience clarified my call to work for healing and justice for those around us who are marginalized, wounded and face real barriers to securing what they need physically, financially and emotionally. This led me to attend seminary with thoughts of going into full-time parish ministry. After finishing seminary in 1999, I came to Atlanta initially to serve with a collegiate training program called Master’s Commission. Before long, I became involved I became involved with a couple of homeless service nonprofits, which led to leading an after school program located in an apartment community in south Atlanta called Richmond Oaks. This 180-unit complex was home to individuals from 5 continents and 24 different countries, many being refugees fleeing wars and economic oppression. Within a few months, I moved into the community with my family and 9 students to begin doing community development and advocacy. For the next 3 years, we assisted hundreds of immigrants and refugees in improving living conditions, gaining legal residence and providing for their families. In 2003, the apartment complex was sold and, despite our best efforts, the residents were displaced. At that time, my family and I were invited to become part of another Atlanta non-profit called City of Refuge. I started my tenure at City of Refuge in a pastoral role but before long became more involved in community outreach and development. Shorty after we arrived, City of Refuge was given a 200,000-square foot warehouse on Atlanta’s westside. For the next 13 years, I had the joy of working with an incredible team of men and women as we built out the warehouse space with a goal of providing a “one stop shop” of services for those in crisis. The centerpiece of our development became housing and supportive services for women and children, including specialty programs for victims of sex trafficking and pregnant teens. In addition, a focus on vocational training led to the development of several skills programs, including automotive and culinary. In the summer of 2016, I had the honor of being recruited as the Executive Director of Crossroads, a position that I remain in today. Crossroads provides support services for those experiencing homelessness in Atlanta, including assistance with documentation, access to a mailing address, a daily meal, transportation assistance, case management, employment services and housing assistance. We now have the privilege of empowering more than 70 households per month to prevent homelessness due to loss of income, or moving out of homelessness into permanent housing. This is thanks to the generosity of an incredible philanthropic community in Atlanta. It certainly has not always been a smooth road. There are often more momentary failures than successes in walking with individuals in crisis, especially when you see so many institutional barriers that make it more difficult for those experiencing poverty and homelessness to stabilize and improve their situation, especially people of color. When you have empathy and compassion for each person it is natural to internalize their struggles and take on their trauma. At times you have to battle becoming emotionally jaded and retreating into “work mode” out of a sense of self-preservation. That’s why I am so grateful for an incredible support system that continually strengthens me emotionally and spiritually, and challenges me to work together in community rather than trying to solve every problem alone.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, in the time of Covid this response is a little different. But assuming “normal” times, there are so many landmark institutions in Atlanta that I think everyone has to experience. I would begin with the King Center and historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, followed by a trip to the Center for Civil and Human Rights. I believe these represent the soul of Atlanta. This would have to be accompanied by a meal at Paschal’s, the historic gathering spot for so many political and civil rights icons over the years with some of the best food and service in the city! I love live music, so we would need to catch a show at The Tabernacle, Center Stage, Smith’s Olde Bar, or one of so many other great spots. Then more food – Busy Bee, Apres Diem, Mary Mac’s, Daddy D’s, The Optimist – too many to name! A brewery tour would be in order – Sweetwater, Orpheus or Monday Night. Then there would have to be some recreation to work off the food, maybe a walk on the Beltline, kayaking on the Chattahoochee, riding the Silver Comet Trail. A Braves game would be a must, or maybe the Atlanta United. Then great drinks to finish off the day at Publik Draft House, The Lawrence or (for a great margarita) F.R.O.G.S. Cantina.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Any shoutouts I give have to begin with my wife and children. Their consistent love, support and patience provide the foundation for anything I achieve in life. My parents modeled a life of service for me and my siblings, and continue to this day to care for those in need in their community. My faith community at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church empowers me daily to be able to do the work I do with their generous financial, operational and spiritual support. And my team at Crossroads are the engine that creates the life-changing impact for those we serve and for the larger Atlanta community. Finally, I have a close group of friends, affectionately known as “Misfits”, who keep me grounded, accountable and focused on the more important goals of life – community, joy and gratitude.