Earnest Adams has fond memories of spending time at the St. Francis Center on Avenue I as a child, and now he wants to make it a gathering place again as the Greenwood Community Center.
Adams, 62, remembers going to the St. Francis Center to play, skate and buy clothes that the nuns would sell every Saturday. “Shirts were a nickel; pants were a dime,” he said.
In the summers, he would cut grass in North Greenwood early in the day and then go to the center. The nuns often would let him and his friends in even if they didn’t have money.
“If you were a good kid, they knew you,” he said, adding with a laugh, “They knew the bad ones, too, but if you were a good kid, they especially knew you.”
It was a place of peace for him. Now he and his wife, Debra, own the buildings and plan to offer activities for children and adults from all over the community. That inclusiveness is the reason for the center’s name, he said: “We wanted the people to know it’s open to every citizen in Greenwood.”
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Adams, 62, a Greenwood native, grew up in a three-bedroom home on Avenue A. He was in the middle of 13 children in the household, but he said they never went hungry. His grandmother had a farm in Teoc where they raised hogs and chickens and grew vegetables, and he was raised on home-cooked meals.
“Not one time in my life as a child did we go out to eat,” he said.
His mother, Emily, is now 96 and still lives in Greenwood. His father, Marion, died in 1998. Both of them stressed the importance of hard work and education.
He recalled one talk his father gave him after coming home from work.
“He said, ‘Look at me. See how dirty I am?’” Adams recalled. “He said, ‘That’s why I push you boys to go to college. You can go work on a job, and you don’t have to come home looking like me, dirty. You can go work a job where you can have a white shirt and tie and a nice pair of pants on, and you can eat your lunch in a restaurant as opposed to eating a bologna sandwich under a shade tree.’”
His mother was very direct with them, too: “She used to tell us we couldn’t get in trouble; if we ever got in jail, don’t call her.”
Adams got into the habit of earning and saving money from cutting grass, raking leaves and doing other chores. When he was in fifth grade, his mother said that if he wanted to go to college, he would have to find a way to help pay for it — so he signed up for football with the goal of earning a college scholarship. A talented all-conference fullback, he also played basketball and ran track at Greenwood High School and was named Mr. GHS his senior year.
On the football field, he was known as “Tank” because he was known for hitting defenders head-on. “I was very mean on the field,” he said. “I just figured nothing could stop me from achieving what I wanted.”
To that end, he also abstained from smoking, drinking and drugs — and continues to do so today.
It paid off. He earned a football scholarship at Albany State University in Albany, Georgia, and agreed to go there without visiting the campus, thinking he wanted to be somewhere different. But it was a big change from home, and after a few weeks of football camp, he told his mother he wanted to leave and go to Mississippi State.
She wasn’t having it, though: “She said, ‘When a man makes a decision, a man sticks to it.’ .... “She said, ‘That’s where you went; that’s where God wants you.’”
So he stayed, and he graduated in 1983 with a major in sociology and a minor in criminal justice. He added a master’s degree in criminal justice years later.
He also played fullback for four years at Albany State, and he proudly says he never missed a game in junior high, high school or college due to injury. In the summers, he continued to cut grass in his hometown and also kept his conditioning up by working at Clark Roofing.
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After graduating, Adams was an assistant coach for Albany State’s football team and then worked as a police officer, first at the university and then for the city of Albany. He became the first black member of the SWAT team, created a school patrol and also made a $105 million cocaine sale to a Colombian cartel when he was a narcotics agent.
Next, he was recruited to Atlanta to be part of the new police department at the Atlanta University Center, which includes Clark Atlanta, Spelman and Morehouse colleges. He stayed there until 2003 and then trained officers and civilians in firearms use and other tasks while running a security company.
He and his wife, a former track star, raised two sons and two daughters, coached them in sports and even started leagues for other young people to play in. Many athletes for these leagues went on to excel in sports at major universities. Once, when he and his wife attended a track meet in which one daughter was running for Florida State University, a number of his former athletes came up to him and his wife and hugged them. Other adults thought the Adamses were celebrities of some kind, but “we had been coaching most of (the athletes) since they were 7, 8 years old,” he said.
In Atlanta, he and his wife also ran a community center that offered many of the same things he wants to offer in Greenwood, and he came to realize his hometown had needs, too.
During one visit to Greenwood, he asked his mother why so many young people were walking around. “She said, ‘They don’t have anything to do. They don’t have anywhere to go,’” he said.
So, since his children were grown, he decided God wanted him to return to Mississippi. He and his wife moved to Greenwood in April.
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Adams wants the Greenwood Community Center to be a one-stop shop with activities for all ages.
He hopes to offer GED preparation and after-school classes within the next couple of months.
His vision for the future also includes adult literacy classes, exercise classes, computer activities, arts and crafts, a restaurant serving healthy food, programs for veterans and pregnant teens and eventually a Boy Scout unit and community garden.
He plans to hold fundraisers and use grants to keep the facility self-sufficient.
After running a 10-week summer camp at the Baptist Town Community Center, he is confident that his facility can make a difference. Many of the young people who attended the camp came in with bad attitudes, but after receiving some encouragement, they were having fun and showing gratitude to the adults by the end, he said: “It was like night and day.”
Those who go to the center will have to follow the rules. No purses or bags will be allowed. Athletes are to bring only one pair of shoes and pull their pants up.
In general, he wants to offer people a chance to improve their futures and not make excuses — “plan your work, then work your plan,” as he likes to say.
“If you offer somebody a dirty glass of water, that’s all they’ll drink,” he said. “We just want to offer them another better glass, that’s all — just give them an option, with a glass of clear water.”
Adams and his wife have been married 33 years and now have nine grandchildren. He has been “semi-retired” from police work since 2017 but plans to keep his training certification up. He still attends Jennings Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, where he went as a child.
He said he is optimistic about Greenwood, including the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District, and believes those in the schools, churches and governments can help improve the city if they get to know the people in their communities better.
He plans to do his part through the community center.
“With the stuff that we’re going to be doing here, it will change this entire community for the better,” he said, “because if it works everywhere else, there’s no reason why it won’t work here.”
•Contact David Monroe at 581-7236 or email@example.com.