A Candle in the Dark
by Hugo Bravo

“The Salvation Army, instead of cursing the darkness, has lit a candle.” Those were the words of civil rights leader James Farmer at the dedication of The Salvation Army Hough Center in October 1969. The $2 million multi–purpose community center, the first of its kind for The Salvation Army, was created in response to the 1966 Hough Riots. 

During those six days in July, arson and destruction of property took place in the predominantly African American community of Hough in Cleveland, Ohio. Heightened racial conflicts and alleged discrimination of black patrons by local business owners were said to be the catalyst for the riots that left four people dead, 50 injured, and 275 arrested. 

Still suffering the effects of that event years later, many people wondered if such a costly investment in Hough by The Salvation Army was worth the effort. But Army leaders saw it differently. They saw the need. Except for a few old, unmaintained school playgrounds, there were no functional recreation facilities in Hough. 

The Army believed that investing in its traditional services such as meals and ministry, as well as amenities such as a gym, a library, a swimming pool, and a skating rink would be welcomed by residents and bring forth healing. The Hough Center would become a staple in the community where over 1,000 people a day would be welcomed and more than 10,000 members were registered in its first six years. 

Christianity in action

Majors Henry and Marjorie Gariepy were appointed to be the Hough Center’s first administrators. Henry Gariepy said that the Army’s presence in Hough was to show the meaning of “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up.” The officer couple made connections with renowned African American leaders to help promote the center, such as Cleveland’s Mayor Carl B. Stokes; boxing champion George Foreman; and Olympic track star Madeline Manning–Mims.

Under the Gariepys’ leadership, Cadets Timothy and Grace Thomas interned at the center in 1969. When they graduated from the Salvation Army’s then–School for Officer Training in 1971, they were appointed as the first officers of the Hough Center, which had been recognized as an Army church earlier that year.

In 1972, Rev. Billy Graham toured the Hough Center and was impressed by the  various programs and resources it provided. He spoke to swimmers at the pool and shot baskets in the gym. Graham called the Hough Corps an example of “Christianity in action,” blessing it and the community it served. “Whenever we think of Hough, we will remember you in our prayers and the work you’re doing here,” said Graham.

As a teen, Quintin Davis visited the Hough Corps because there was always something to do there. Six days a week after school, he would play pickup basketball games, skate at the rink, or swim at the pool. 

“I didn’t know much about the church aspect of Hough,” admits Quintin. “But that changed two days before I graduated high school in 1982, when my father passed away.”

Word got out at the corps that this young man who had visited Hough often had just suffered a painful loss. Salvation Army employees reached out to Quintin and invited him to take part in the Sunday ministry. 

“They said to me, ‘If you like it, stay. If not, don’t. No pressure,” said Quintin. “I liked how they approached me. I’ve been here ever since.”

After high school, Quintin worked at the church as a custodian. During Christmas season, he also rang the bell at the red kettle. Eventually, he became a youth mentor in the after–school program, where he helped young people who came to The Salvation Army, just as he had. 

On Jan. 17, 2014, the Hough Community Center closed its doors after 45 years of service. During the last months of its operation, Angela Davis, Quintin’s wife, and former employee at Hough, said the workers and volunteers had no idea the center would close in only a few days. 

“When Hough closed, we all relocated to the Cleveland Superior Corps. We were there for about two–and–a–half years until 2017, when the East Cleveland Corps opened,” says Angela.

Still shining

Today, the candle that was lit by The Salvation Army in Hough continues to shine in corps like East Cleveland.

“This new East Cleveland Corps had to become fully accessible to make a true impact in the community, just like the Hough Corps did,” says Major Brian Glasco, pastor at East Cleveland.  

“The work of the Hough Corps can never really be replicated,” says Angela. “The Center had been there for so long in the community, and for the most difficult times. When we knew someone, we knew their mother, father, grandmother, and the rest of the family. We knew people by generations.”

“But we always work to build that here in East Cleveland. Not only because of the staff that came with its traditions, but because of the love and hope that carried over from Hough for the people who now come to us.