On faith, TPD chaplain resigns to move to ‘whitest city in America’

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Andru Morgan resigned from his volunteer chaplain post at the Tulsa Police Department in order to move to Portland, Ore. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

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.”

“When Jacob was killed, it jarred me,” said Morgan, who threw a vigil for Barnes’ family not long after the shooting. “I was like ‘I don’t want Tulsa to become like Kansas City.’”

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.

“I prayed about it, and God said ‘Go now.’ So here we go.” – Andru Morgan

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.

On Monday, Morgan turned in his chaplain’s gear. By this weekend they plan on being on the road to Portland, Ore.

With no sure jobs and, for now, no sure housing, it’s a leap of faith.

“I prayed about it, and God said ‘Go now,’” Morgan said. “So here we go.”

Chaplaincy
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.

“When that happened, I got in the car immediately because I really feel like clergy is going to be the bridge from the community to the police officers who are supposed to protect the community,” Morgan said. “And me being a black pastor going into the community with the police, it’s like if I don’t do it, I’ll further feed the fear of police in our community.”

He said that around the same time, his wife, Regina, had been pulled over by a TPD officer. His wife was so scared, Morgan said, that she called him and put him on the speaker phone so he could hear what was happening.

“She was terrified and I was trying to walk her through (the interaction),” Morgan said. “She kept apologizing to the officer and saying, ‘I’m sorry I’m acting so scared,’ and I could tell he was very upset. He did not receive it. He did not choose to comfort her, and he was very agitated with her.

“What he did was very offensive to me, but I felt like he was doing it from a place of fear, or of pain, and I felt like I needed to be there to talk with officers and figure out their pain and their fear.”

“Andru was one of our exceptional ones. He took the job seriously and he took the people to heart. He could see both sides of the coin, and he did his best to be a bridge of communication and resolution.” – Danny Lynchard, chief TPD chaplain

“When I first met him, I thought to myself ‘He’s too serious, he’ll never last,” Danny Lynchard said. Lynchard has worked as a chaplain at TPD since 1982.

“Andru was one of our exceptional ones,” Lynchard said. “He took the job seriously and he took the people to heart. He could see both sides of the coin, and he did his best to be a bridge of communication and resolution.

“He had a way of pulling people together.“

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.

Later that day he was photographed by a Tulsa World photographer as he sat on the curb with his head in his hands, praying.

His job was also to counsel police officers who needed someone to talk to.

“Martin Luther King Jr. said that hate cannot drive out hate, and I felt like we were getting to a point where the community had hate for the police and some police had hate for the community,” Morgan said. “I’ve just wanted to do my part to fix that.”

What’s next
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. What’s that address?

“Well I don’t really have one right now,” Morgan said, noting that he hoped to sign a lease on a place there early this week.

His plan in Portland is to first help get a small church there off the ground.

“Our church here (New Beginnings Community Church) has supported the efforts to launch this church there, so we want to go and help out with that,” he said. His wife, who works for an energy company, will likely not go long without work.

As for Morgan?

“For me, (the move) is of personal importance for a number of reasons,” he said.

 “God gave me this skin color for a reason.” – Andru Morgan

Portland, despite its progressive leanings, is known as “the whitest city in America” and has a long racist history.

An article in The Atlantic said that when Oregon became a state in the mid 1850s, it was the only state to forbid blacks from living there. The article quoted demographic studies that show 72 percent of Portland’s residents are white, and only a little over 6 percent are black, the largest disparity in the nation.

Gentrification of the city’s downtown environment has pushed more than one-fourth of the black citizens to the town’s “far-off fringes,” the article states.

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.

“I know what a disenfranchised community looks like, and sounds like,” he said. “But where I’m from, in Kansas City, or Dallas, or Tulsa, there are communities where people look like me. Portland isn’t really like that.

“I know it’s OK to identify as an African-American and also a follower of Christ,” he said. “God gave me this skin color for a reason, and I want to go (to Portland), to a place I would have been uncomfortable being in the past, and try and make a difference.”

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan is a news junkie, fantasy sports advocate and QuikTrip addict. When he's not refreshing Twitter, setting too many fantasy lineups or munching on a taquito, he spends his time covering crime and social issues in Tulsa and around the state. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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