Basketball-playing Pine Hills pastor meets troubled youth on the court

Community activists work to prevent crime

ORLANDO, Fla. – On Sunday mornings, Pine Hills native Pastor Kelvin Roundtree is preaching from the pulpit in his worship room at the Ark Christian Center.

His church is a converted storefront in a strip mall at the corner of Silver Star Road and Pine Hills Road.

Across the street in the parking lot behind the Hardees is where the Orange County Sheriff's Office trailer has been stationed since the joint Sheriff's Office and Orlando Police Department crime crackdown in Pine Hills began in December.

Roundtree said he purposely picked this corner for his church.

"Yes, there's been a lot of shootings (at this intersection)," Roundtree said. "We had the young man killed at his birthday party right over there."

Roundtree said he's known many of the victims in the area's violent crimes, along with some of the suspects.

"Yes, I knew Markeith Loyd since (he was) a young man, very young man," he said.

The pastor said he knew Loyd when he still had a smile on his face, before prison.

He also knew Lt. Debra Clayton, who was shot to death in January. On Wednesday, Loyd was indicted for her murder.

"That's the last place I saw her at the briefing, we had a good conversation, we laughed," Roundtree said as he pointed to the Sheriff's Office trailer across the street.

Roundtree said he's lost hundreds of people in the past decade, many of whom were his friends, either to crime, prison, or death.

He showed News 6 more than a dozen programs from funeral services he'd conducted recently.

"A lot of funerals I've preached at I've met people there at those funerals that came to my church or looked me up," Roundtree said. "I have mothers that inbox me on Facebook or see me at a funeral and say 'Can you speak to my son, can you help my son, can you mentor him?' and I'm always willing to do whatever I can."

But Roundtree understands that many troubled youth - the age group that police largely blame for the violence - will not come to church, even if it's in the center of Pine Hills.

So Roundtree goes to them.

Every afternoon, you will find the pastor shooting hoops at Barnett Park in Pine Hills with people who are decades younger than the 40-year-old.

"I come here to meet them and talk to them," Roundtree said. "The first time I ever since, Terrance Givens, the young man killed at his birthday party was right here standing right there, at the back of that bleacher right there."

Both the sheriff and police chief insist that they need the community's help to get results on crime. Roundtree believes it is his duty as a Pine Hills native, resident and pastor to get involved.

"I usually take little shots at them and encourage them," Roundtree said. "I even pray with these guys. And we'll even pray right there on the basketball court before we start. They won't come to my church but they'll be right here."

Roundtree, like Loyd, grew up in Pine Hills, and, like Loyd, lost his way as a young man.

Roundtree showed News 6 two bullet holes in his legs that he received when he was 17.

"I relate to them, I let them know I've been where they are, I've been in JDC, I've been in 33rd," Roundtree said. "You can't continue to hang out with the same crowd, if they're going left and you're trying to right."

Roundtree said the key to getting the message through is showing compassion.

"I'd say the vast majority of them want to be helped but they want to be loved too," Roundtree said. "But you must first show them that you love them and care before they will receive you."

Roundtree believes gangs and specifically retaliation is largely the cause of the violence in Pine Hills.

"I'm a firm believer that if you're a part of the problem, that's when the problems come to you. If you're not a part of the problem, no one is coming to shoot up your house or rob you or nothing like that."

Another man of faith, Jermaine Fort, also meets young men where they are: at their jobs, during their community service, in jail, at crime scenes, even at hospitals.

"It takes a Martin Luther King effort, a sacrifice of my time to go and mentor young men and women out here, and give them another option," Fort said.  "We've buried over 30 young men in the last three years in the community."

Fort also ran into trouble as boy but recently finished Seminary school.

"I would definitely say we're getting through to some of the young men in our community," Rountree said. "One was like, 'I got myself together, I ain't been back to jail,' so we are reaching them, one at a time, one by one."

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