Men of Nehemiah: ‘Love People Back’

Members of the Men of Nehemiah tend to a garden.
Members of the Men of Nehemiah tend to a garden. | Image by Tiffany Chartier/The Dallas Express

Everyone wants to have a sense of belonging, a place where you feel seen — a place to call home. For some, “home” is a word that comes with painful memories of broken relationships, addiction, and experiencing homelessness. While many complain of societal problems, one place in South Dallas is actually doing something radical: loving people back to healing and wholeness.

Men of Nehemiah in South Dallas is an intensive, multi-phased recovery ministry. Run under the direction of founder Louis Harrell, Jr., the program serves the most vulnerable men of South Dallas to offer recovery, restoration, and freedom from the clutches of addiction, faulty thinking, neglect, violence, and recidivism.

With the significant shortage of Dallas police officers trickling down to higher response times and the stunted ability to adequately address vagrancy and homelessness, as previously reported by The Dallas Express, it is the community at large that suffers.

Rather than play defense to the problem, Men of Nehemiah plays offense, believing the answer is rooted in community and faith, with men responding less to enforcement and more to the strength of accountability, discipline, faith, and being a part of something greater than themselves. A testament to this ethos, one of accountability and self-sufficiency, is that a third of the staff on campus are actual program graduates.

The Dallas Express sat down for an exclusive interview with founder Louis Harrell Jr. and toured the Men of Nehemiah campus to learn what this program offers that makes it uniquely successful.

“To build a strong community, men have to submit to the strength of the community,” Louis said. “We love people back” to themselves.

Louis struggled with addiction for 20 years, was behind bars on and off for eight years, and lived on the street for close to two years.

Louis’ father, a former Army colonel and pastor, wanted to help his son heal. In 1994, Louis Harrell Sr. began Men of Nehemiah in New Orleans. The father would eventually see hope revealed as his son got free from the abyss of addiction.

Sixteen years later, the younger Louis brought Men of Nehemiah to 2010 Al Lipscomb Way in Dallas, Texas, and with it the mission of holistic healing, redemption, and deliverance through clinical, biblical, and military components.

Through the program, clients receive counseling from professional counselors trained in trauma and substance abuse, engage in scheduled devotionals and biblical teachings, participate in community service, and carry out well-ordered military formations and drills, including a 3.5-mile march each Saturday. In addition, clients are assigned a “support brother” accountability partner who is also going through the program and a mentor from the surrounding community.

The community service component includes worship concerts and testimonies at different locations, including churches. Men of Nehemiah will hold a Christmas concert on December 12 at Park Cities Baptist Church from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Just this year, the Men of Nehemiah have performed 31 times, offering their message of redemption through singing.

“Music is one of the hallmarks of who we are,” Louis said.

Louis infuses traditional hymn lyrics with tap-your-feet beats, giving the men and audience a commanding and celebratory experience. Music can be a sermon in and of itself, and singing into pain can bring healing on its own, as Louis has seen first-hand. He started a choir during his time in jail in an effort to minister to his and others’ pain.

“I keep my pain in my pocket as it keeps me real and reminds me who I am — it keeps me in a state of gratitude,” Louis said. “Pain is a driving force.”

The clients at Men of Nehemiah are no stranger to pain, and their diversity demonstrates that it does not discriminate by class, color, or culture.

“Guys lead with their pain,” said Travis, age 39, a client who comes from a gated community in Frisco and is married with children. “I must remember my ‘why’ and celebrate little victories.”

Another client, Richard, age 37, grew up in the penal system, starting at the age of 10, being arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. A self-professed gang leader, enforcer, and murderer from South Dallas, he spoke about how easy it is to make money selling drugs on the streets.

“You pay for one [drug], and I give you three — now you owe me.”

When asked why he perpetuated the cycle of addiction and violence, he responded, “I will never be the victim again, so I became the victimizer.”

But Men of Nehemiah has inspired him to be an enforcer of a greater power now, he explained: Christ Jesus.

“I felt love here,” the man said of Men of Nehemiah. “It is a lot, but a lot for all the right reasons. God is with me. This place is my family.”

The nine-month core treatment program includes living onsite at a residential complex with 52 beds. Upon graduation, men transition to a sober living community for additional support that typically lasts up to a year. The goal is to keep a client in the program from 18 – 24 months as this is the range shown to yield the highest probability for long-term success, according to Melinda Russ, the executive vice president and community outreach leader for Men of Nehemiah.

To further support the holistic approach of recovery, Men of Nehemiah assists clients with employment, legal issues, securing an ID or driver’s license, if needed, establishing healthy nutritional habits, as well as medical attention such as drug screenings and physicals.

As the pain from addiction often falls upon loved ones, Men of Nehemiah encourages family involvement and will offer family counseling starting in December.

Men who enter the program pay nothing; in-kind donations and 32 sponsors fund the campus and program resources. The program has 27 staff members, 13 biblical teacher volunteers, AA sponsors, garden volunteers, and 42 mentors. The mentorship aspect brings men from the surrounding community to the campus, usually once or twice a week, to build healthy relationships with other males.

“After 90 days in the program, we introduce a gentleman from the community to a client to form a healthy male friendship,” said Russ. The mentorship relationship often lasts well beyond the program, Russ added, further enforcing the offense approach to building an improved, stronger community.

When asked what Men of Nehemiah does here on campus, Louis replied with three simple yet powerful words: “We free people.”

To learn more about Men of Nehemiah, visit their website.

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