Morning View Baptist Church is located in the heart of South Memphis at 926 Carnegie St. in an area known as Lauderdale Sub. At one time, it was notoriously known worldwide as the “Dirty, Dirty” by the city’s underground rap scene. It is an area where American success stories seem few and far between.
The church pastor, the Rev. Alvin Fleming, holds a regular Sunday breakfast talk at the corner of Essex and Humber trying to get young men off the street and into the church, or anywhere they can find hope away from the too numerous sad tales.
This past Sunday, hope was on display inside Morning View where the Crutisons – father Maurice, mother Deborah, 12-year-old Aaliyah, 3-year-old Marissa, and 19-year-old Nicholas Williams – were dressed in all white to observe the christening of Marissa and several other children from the church.
Marissa is the third child the Crutisons have adopted over the past decade. Working with the Department of Children Services, their home has been designated as a safe haven for children needing rescue. Sister-in-law Verna Farwell also steps in as chief babysitter. Best friend Sheila Taylor steps into an auntie role when needed.
The family was the focus of a big dinner celebration at the Hollywood Community Center, not far from their North Memphis home. A sophomore studying business administration at Lambuth University, Nicholas shared with the guests his life with the Crutisons.
“If it wasn’t for my mother and father, I would have never, ever had the chance to go to college,” he said. “I have never felt nothing but love and welcome in our home and it’s been that way since we came together.”
He recalled the day when he and his sisters were taken away from their biological parents. “It was a real struggle,” he said, “but it all started straightening out when I met my dad,” which is how he refers to Crutison.
“He kept telling us to keep praying, to keep pushing, and it would one day be alright. We finally got to them and that’s when my life started getting better,” said Nicholas, recalling an incident when he had to be disciplined after a fight in ninth-grade.
“It wasn’t my fault, but my dad came right up to the school and straightened it out. I love him.”
While Aaliyaha was headed to the community center with the church’s spirit dance team, their mother Deborah reciprocated at the microphone for a highly emotional testimony of what the children have done for her.
She has issues with her heart that has weakened her vocal chords, but it was her emotions that made it difficult for her to speak. Most of the family and friends at the dinner knew her story and cried in gratitude with her.
“These children have been my strength. You all know this illness has been hard on me sometimes, but they give me a reason to fight back and make every day better,” she managed to say between tears. “This has been such a very, very special day, and it means so much…”
Her sister Mignon Mendez spoke next, filling out the story. They are natives of Panama, where she and her husband Ramon had come from. She explained the special significance of it all.
“My sister is very ill,” she said. “We know it gets hard on her sometimes and I truly believe that having these children has been the best medicine for her. You can see the love in this family. And for this day to happen on the very same day as the anniversary of our mother’s death, I will always cherish this moment being here.”
The patriarch of the Crutison family urged everyone to enjoy his or her food, and then took a moment to reflect. “What do I say to people who ask me about being a DCS parent? It’s easy. All you have to do is have faith in God and do what you know is right for your children.”
It shows when people love their children and do right by them, said Crutison, justifying that statement with the following observation: “Are they clean? Are they fed well? Do the children look happy?”
Crutison’s brother is a supervisor with DCS in Vallejo, Calif. He said he became aware of the need when three of his cousins were brought into the system. He couldn’t take them all in, but vowed never to turn a child away from his door.
“Look at my baby!” he laughed, before rushing over to haul Marissa back into his arms.