The Frontier: On Faith, TPD Chaplain Resigns To Move To 'Whitest City In America'
TULSA, Oklahoma - Jacob Barnes, a 16-year-old Memorial High School freshman, had just stepped off his school bus one fall afternoon in 2009 when a gold Chevrolet Tahoe pulled up behind him.
Words were exchanged and shots rang out. Barnes was shot three times, once in the back of the head, once in the neck and once in the back. He died from his wounds.
Andru Morgan didn’t know Barnes, but he felt a pull to do something for the teenager’s family. Having moved to Tulsa from Kansas City a few years prior, Morgan said he had seen what happened to that community when it became “a vicious city filled with crime.”
At the time, Morgan was in the midst of his own personal journey. In Kansas City he worked at what he called “adult novelties shop,” and his plan to leave that place and move to Las Vegas was interrupted when his wife convinced him to move to Tulsa to be near his sisters.
When he got here — about 15 years ago — he went to broadcasting school and began working as a DJ at a local radio station. After around five years in Tulsa, Morgan said, he felt the call to begin attending church.
After Barnes’ death, he felt it was his calling to become a more vocal leader in the community.
“I just noticed a sense of apathy in the community after Jacob was killed,” he said. “I was already going down this path of following God, but after (the shooting) I just said ‘Let me follow God and follow this path of becoming a leader.’”
That path led Morgan to eventually be one of 16 volunteer chaplains for the Tulsa Police Department, and one of only three black chaplains.
As Morgan tells the story, community officers and other chaplains at the Tulsa Police Department had been trying to get him to commit to become a chaplain for years, though he’d always declined the offers.
He finally gave in last August, and as fate would have it, the Terence Crutcher shooting happened the following month.
As a chaplain, Morgan not only worked with the north Tulsa community, but he continued his work with the homeless and mentally ill — something he’d begun when he began working with the John 3:16 Mission years earlier.
Morgan responded last June to the shooting scene of Joshua Barre, a mentally ill north Tulsa man, at the hands of law enforcement from TPD and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
A large crowd gathered after the shooting, yelling and allegedly hurling items at the responding officers. Tensions were high, and Morgan tried to calm both sides.
His job was also to counsel police officers who needed someone to talk to.
Right now there’s a white moving pod in the driveway of his north Tulsa home. Once it’s filled up, a company will pick it up and drive it to his new address in Portland.
Portland, despite its progressive leanings, is known as “the whitest city in America” and has a long racist history.
Gentrification of the city’s downtown environment has pushed more than one-fourth of the black citizens to the town’s “far-off fringes,” according to an article in The Atlantic.
Morgan knows disenfranchised communities, and he assumes that black Portland residents are not unlike disenfranchised black residents from areas where he’s lived. Maybe, he said, he can help.