By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Gene Jelks has come home, to host a ministry outreach event he hopes will bring the Gadsden community together.
He’s been away from Gadsden for 25 years, Jelks said, and he gives God the glory for the First Annual Kids Day event, which has brought him home. Kids Day will be Saturday (Sept. 8) at the soccer fields at Gadsden
State Community College, from noon to 5:30 p.m.
Jelks left Gadsden for the University of Alabama in 1984. He’d been a football star at Emma Sansom High School; he went on to be one in college, and played for a time in the pros.
The football legend – that Gene Jelks, he said, doesn’t exist anymore.
“I run touchdowns for the Lord now,” Jelks said.
Kids Day will bring many of the fun elements of any festival – food and beverages provided by Buffalo Rock, face painting, and family games geared toward children 8 and older. But it will also include Christian DJ Kayo, praise dancers, Christian rap artists, and a flag football game and school supplies for children, according to Jelks. He said he’s invited Mayor Sherman Guyton to speak and expects other officials to attend.
“The goal of the event is to bring kids, families and the community together as one body of Jesus Christ,” Jelks said. It is a mission Jelks believes God put on his heart some time ago – telling him he needed to go back to the beginning.
Jelks’ journey took him far from Gadsden and far from the acclaim of the successful athlete. His struggles over the years, which included drug abuse, homelessness and falling from favor with the Alabama football family have been documented in the national media, as has the reconciliation he’s made with many from his days as an Alabama player.
“I went through a Jonah. I went through a prodigal son,” he said.
“I had lost everything,” Jelks said of a point in time between his playing days and the present. “I was homeless. I think I had to go through those things to get to Him.”
Jelks said he surrendered to God in 2009 and God started to speak to show him the way to go forward for His glory.
Jelks said he founded Above Ground Outreach, the ministry he’s bringing to Gadsden this weekend. He’s been working for the last three years to share God’s message with others, especially with young people.
When Jelks began working on organizing an outreach effort in his hometown, he said, some local businessmen suggested he set up a football camp, but he told them no.
“I want the City of Gadsden to know this is not about me,” Jelks said. “That would have been the old Gene.”
Jelks said he gives God the praise for making all aspects of the event come together. When he called the Gadsden Department of Parks and Recreation, he got a positive response, as he had with other contacts regarding the event.
Jelks said the event is free. He is covering 75 percent of the costs, he said, and has spent the week seeking additional support. If anyone would like to help with the event, Jelks said they can contact him through his mother, Doris Jelks, at 256-549-1208 or 256-393-7021.