Fomer Trojan finds peace in Common Ground

Published 11:27 pm Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sometimes the most meaningful things can be found in the humblest of places, the places that many have turned a blind eye to and see as beyond help.

For Bryan Kelly, a former member of the Troy University baseball team, that place is Montgomery’s Washington Park community, a dangerous section of the city that is now the home of an institution of hope and recovery.

Kelly founded the Common Ground Ministry for the purpose of helping the areas at-risk youth and restoring the neighborhood to a thriving community through the word of God.

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Arrested for drug trafficking at age 16 and avoiding a conviction, Kelly found himself on a baseball scholarship at Troy searching for a purpose in life.

Kelly went on to become a part of campus outreach, where he met his future wife, and stayed on after school to help mentor athletes.
After Troy he began to pursue a master’s in Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, where he began to see how he wanted to serve thanks to a class in urban ministry taught by a man who had worked in New Orleans.

“Getting there and seeing how this man had worked for so long and the changes he had brought in one of the worst cities in America was very inspiring to me,” Kelly said.

Kelly decided he wanted to replicate that type of ministry, and saw that Montgomery, a city divided along racial and economic borders, was a place he could begin his ministry.

As he did in college, he started out working alongside athletes, coaching baseball and football at Carver High School and getting to know the athletes and their families.

Kelly knew the importance of athletics and how it had the power to bring people together and teach them important lessons.

“It was a great tool for me because you have a set time to be around people,” he said. “You find out how other show character and handle adversity and it brings people together and helps them learn more about life and its consequences.”

It was afterwards that he began the Common Ground ministry, a name chosen by his wife who felt that for them to prompt a change they all needed to be on common ground, including living in the very neighborhood they would be serving.

Today, the ministry handles around 100 kids per day in various after-school programs that work to keep the kids off of the streets and out of trouble.

They put an intense focus on academics and elective classes such as sports teams and hold bible studies to help give the kids productive activities.

Perhaps more importantly, the program has been working to connect each child with his/her own Christian mentor, who stays with paired with them from the 4th grade through the 12th.

All of this comes together to provide the kids with 5 or 6 solid adult mentors where they may have previously had none.

“The end goal for me is a thriving neighborhood that is a reflection of God’s word,” Kelly said. “I want to see two-parent families reestablished and I want to help develop these kids not just into leaders but into leaders of their home. It can become so much of a norm that you actually begin to change the odds for the kids growing up.”

Kelly understands the scope of the undertaking he and his family are involved in, and has received his share of criticism both good and bad from the community, which includes those who love him for his work and those who feel he isn’t doing enough.

But Kelly is determined to bring back healthy families and a strong sense of community to his neighborhood in Montgomery, even if it means opening his own home to the kids of the neighborhood.

“It’s humbling because there’s no way to generalize or make a formula out of this,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work and faith in the Lord to help these kids and it is very encouraging to see the changes that it can bring.”

Yet for all of the time that has passed, Kelly played baseball in the late 1990s, he still remembers the importance the city and university at Troy played in inspiring him and his family to do their work.

“I really am thankful for our time at Troy and Troy University,” he said. “It was very influential on our lives and I think there’s still something special going on and it’s a special town. I think Troy University has a very unique and strong leadership in men like Jack Hawkins.”