Everyone knows the Rev. Doug Taylor. For 15 years, he and his wife, Sonia, have been running the Jesus Party, an outreach program that works with kids from the inner city. Taylor has also been known to ruffle feathers, chopping up copies of the Harry Potter books in Kennedy Park and going after other forms of entertainment he deems destructive.
Not everybody knows that Taylor is a former bad boy, himself, a one-time addict who turned his life around while serving jail time. So when Bro Doug heard that 18-year-old Billie Coburn, a former member of his flock, had confessed to vandalizing a cemetery, Taylor jumped into action.
How did you know Billie Coburn?
I evangelize the inner-city streets thoroughly. I found Billie like I find all the other kids, door to door. Our relationship spans a solid decade. Back in those days, we passed out candy on street corners next to Longley Elementary School. His brother and sister used to come as well. Billie, like many typical teenagers, fell away from the Jesus Party as he grew older. Over the years we stayed friendly and Billie always showed respect for my family and our ministry even when he was pressured by his peers in a group setting.
What did you think of the vandalism at Riverside Cemetery?
When I was a teenager, I did a lot of dumb things. Billie's actions were very disappointing and disturbing. I hope he will take this opportunity to redeem himself. He is on very thin ice and cannot afford to mess up. The community is watching very closely and so am I. Whatever happens in terms of punishment, I pray it does not turn out to be felony charges that could haunt him for the rest of his life (I know personally because this is the case in my life). I would like to see him deal with this now while he is a young man and not have to struggle with this later in life.
How did Billie do when he recently talked to the kids of The Jesus Party about his role in the vandalism?
You could have heard a pin drop in the room. All eyes and ears were open to Billie's story. Billie handled himself like a gentlemen. He held the newspaper story in his hand while he talked. He read his apology to the children. He encouraged children to stay out of trouble, to avoid drugs and alcohol, and stick with the advice that their parents, teachers and the Jesus Party give them. At one point in the evening a very emotional outburst took place. One of my staff members by the name of Jim Degen spoke up and walked up to Billie, nose to nose and told him how awful he thought the crime was. Jim's mother passed away nine years ago and he still is very sensitive about it. Jim told Billie and the Jesus Party kids that every tombstone, flower or flag in a graveyard is placed there by someone who loved them. Jim with a red face, shaky voice and a tear in his eye, told Billie that God loved him and would forgive him. Jim told Billie that if he really meant what he said to the kids, his life would eventually show it. Staff member Jerry Derboghosian, who is 87 years old, extended his hand of reconciliation to Billie and encouraged him to live a crime-free life. He told Billie that he was proud of him because things like this happen all the time and no one ever admits their guilt. Jerry reassured Billie that he could count on the Jesus Party for future support. There were a couple kids in the room who were familiar with him. I guess at one point they were next-door neighbors. Everyone in the room was very surprised by my special guest.
Do you believe some good can come of all this?
Yes. My simple sermon to Billie was "only good things can come from doing good."
Think you'll join dashingly handsome reporter Mark LaFlamme in Halloween celebrations this year?
You are very funny. If I do hook up with you, the last place on Earth that I'll be found with you is in a graveyard.