Life on the streets in Orange Mound taught Bretta Calhoun many things. She mentioned two specifically: “Bitterness devours you. The fast lane didn’t get me anything but a ticket.”
She had passed by the House at Orange Mound many times. One day about two years ago she stopped. And she kept coming back.
The first thing she noticed about the House was that it was peaceful, then that it “smelled beautiful” and then that it “looked beautiful.” Other visits gave her this impression: “It’s an oasis.”
She started going to Bible studies. Then she took a different class, then another, and then was asked to join My Cup of Tea. She’s now employed by MCOT and teaches a class she learned—Tea Time.
Over these two-plus years, the House has changed her life. “You see where you can do more, be more, have more, and all that starts with you,” she said. Calhoun, 59, has a daughter and a granddaughter.
She talks about the “good place” she is in right now in this season of her life. She’s teaching, earning a bit of money, enjoying the tea work, and “growing in sisterhood.” She finds the friendship among women at the House and MCOT a joy.
“We’re like a vegetable soup here. That one’s an onion. Over there is a celery. You’re a tomato. We’re a real good mix,” she laughed. “I really have a love for these women. They know your personality; they know your issues, and they’ll stop and pray.”
Common issues in Orange Mound can include times in a woman’s life of drug addiction, seasons of homelessness and despair, years of single parenthood, and always the tension of crushing poverty.
“Something better can happen to them now,” Calhoun said. “They don’t have to die in that addiction or stay in that oppression. God uses the aspects of our lives that have been bad for good purposes in the lives of others.”
The House offers a light in Orange Mound, and that light is Jesus. It points to something different, to a different kind of life from the streets in Orange Mound.
“If you don’t spend every moment with recovering people, you may fall back,” Calhoun said. She has found that the House and MCOT are places where “people are going to love on you. If you really want to change, you have a colony and they’ll cheer you on.”
"I don’t have to distrust you because God is going to provide for me
and God is going to provide for you"
Calhoun says she still loves her street friends “but I can’t hang with those ladies, much as I love them, if they’re doing things I don’t want to do. I get love here at the House.”
In addition to good friendships, here’s something else about the House and MCOT: Trust. “A lot of black women don’t trust each other. We were in competition for survival for ourselves and our children. We were scrapping for the same things among the same group of women. We couldn’t afford to trust because we were in competition,” Calhoun explained.
She is learning that competition eases when a woman believes that God is her source. “I don’t have to distrust you because God is going to provide for me and God is going to provide for you,” she said.
Calhoun smiles at the changes she notices in herself. “God has me and now I’m free. I can love you. I can show a soft side because I don’t have to be competing with you,” she said. “My life has changed. My life gets better and better and better.”
Yet she has had hard times. She remembers abruptly leaving an abusive relationship. She packed four black plastic bags with her belongings, put them in a grocery cart, and wheeled the cart to a rooming house on Hanley Street. She kept her job during that hard time and started rebuilding her life.
Calhoun tells of two significant moments in her life when she saw God move. First, when she was about 19, her mother had a conversion experience and abruptly stopped cussing. “I knew then that God was able to do everything,” she said. Second, she went to a street revival in a blue tent across from a liquor store on the corner of Park and Grand.
Try Bretta's favorite tea - Mango Fruit Tea
A pastor held a megaphone. “He hollered at me to come in,” Calhoun said. And she’s glad he did. Calhoun experienced what she described as “a moment with God.” It left her with this realization: “I know that I know that I know that God is real.”
Does she have advice for others in Orange Mound—others entrapped in hopelessness and negative routines? Yes, indeed! “Put God first! That’s something in my life that’s settled. If you put God first, it just gets better. I’ve never seen that fail.”
- Robin Gallaher Branch