How My Life Changed
excerpt from an article written by Jeremy Schwab circa 2009
The Rev. Bruce Wall camped out in an apartment on Lyndhurst Street in Dorchester all of last week with a mission to lead neighborhood patrols and reach out to drug dealers and other miscreants who terrorize the law-abiding residents of the neighborhood.
Wall’s week-long campaign garnered intense local and national media attention, although its long-term effects cannot yet be known.
Taking a short break from his frenetic efforts to take back the streets around Codman Square, Wall spoke with the Banner about his life and turbulent upbringing in Roxbury.
The 56-year-old has not always walked the path of righteousness. While he has dedicated most of the past 30 years to encouraging youths to stay away from drugs and violence, Wall once ran with the wrong crowd himself.
Growing up on Monroe and Cedar streets in the 1950s and 1960s, he struggled to find direction in a household run by a single mother with the lure of street life always beckoning.
“We were on welfare, and during the days my mother would go to Newton and Wellesley to clean the suburban homes to supplement the income,” he said. “She used to take me on some Saturdays, so I used to help make the beds, clean the sinks, mow the lawns. I got out of that as a child what I call a “work ethic.”
Despite the strong example set by his mother, who got off of welfare and found a job at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, Wall fell in with an unruly crowd at Brighton High School.
At 16, his friends convinced him to be their get-away driver as they stole car radios and other car parts. Wall and his friends would race recklessly down the expressway for fun.
He said he did other mischievous things after moving to the Bromley Heath Housing Project, but declined to discuss them.
Two traumatic events in his life negatively impacted his behavior, Wall said. First, his father left him, his mother and three sisters when Wall was seven. Then in junior high school, Wall came home with his mother from church one day only to find their house was burning down.
After the fire, the Red Cross moved the family into a roach-infested apartment in Roxbury. But when teenagers broke in the first night to have sex, his mother promptly moved them to Mission Hill.
Wall’s anti-social behavior almost kept him from graduating from high school. Just two weeks before his graduation, Wall walked out of school and refused to return after an altercation with a football coach.
“It was my senior year,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, where I was going to go. I was home just a few days when either [algebra teacher] Elizabeth Tobin or someone else my mother sent to me talked me into coming back. It was two weeks before my graduation. How stupid can you be?”
But as an unknown future loomed ahead of him, a minister Wall had known for years steered his life in a new direction.
Rev. Michael Haynes had taken an interest in Wall’s well-being when the boy attended youth programs at Haynes’ church during junior high school.
Haynes became involved in Walls’ life, even taking him on an eye-opening trip to Senegal during high school.
“I went to Senegal and saw black kids younger than myself speaking four languages,” said Wall. “I said wait a minute, we are here in Roxbury beating people on the head, threatening people. When we came back to the U.S., I said I can start doing something with myself.”
Haynes convinced Wall to attend the predominantly white Berkshire Christian College in Lenox.
During college, a cash-strapped Wall would hitchhike back to Roxbury to serve as youth minister at the Twelfth Baptist Church, where Haynes was head minister.
Wall spent 14 years as a youth minister at Twelfth Baptist, eventually moving his ministry out to the streets to reach out to teens at the Chez Vous roller skating rink in the late 1980s.
“I felt I needed to help these kids as a pastor, because I didn’t think the court system was doing a great job,” he said.
During the 1980s, Wall worked prominently in the Drop a Dime – Report Crime campaign to encourage community members to call the police with anonymous tips.
He became co-pastor at Dorchester Temple Baptist Church in Codman Square in 1993 with a white minister, Craig McMullen, in an effort to cultivate a multi-racial congregation. Wall now serves as senior pastor at the same church, now re-named Global Ministries Christian Church.
Pastor Bruce Wall married Karin Eato-Smith in June of 1988. He and his wife have three adult children.