Sharing Our Story

Leadership from the Hood

Authored by: 
Lisa Williams

Teenage boys after basketball win

Meet CJ Barnett @ Jane and Finch

“If I can be a role model to the kids and youth in my neighbourhood, I will,” says CJ Barnett from Toronto. “In my community, kids don’t always have a positive male role model. That’s why I do what I do.”
CJCJ grew up in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto and was part of the Jane Finch Faith Community, an MCEC congregation. The past two summers he has worked with Inner City Outreach in the Jane Finch neighbourhood, a six-week summer program for students combining worship, arts, crafts and sports. Each week they study a Bible story and Fridays include a big trip to the zoo or other parks around the city.

As CJ grew up, he recalls friends who had all the latest and greatest items that one could want. He also realized that they might have obtained those items in ways that CJ was not prepared to mimic. “My mom always told me to be a leader and not a follower, and frankly, I was always a little afraid of her!” he laughs. “She always had me on my toes and the church was always a safe haven for me. Everyone there cared for me and wanted the best for me.”

"I feel like every pastor at Jane Finch impacted me in the right way.”

Selected by his high school teachers to be in a leadership team, CJ was encouraged early in life to develop leadership skills and help those around him. As a young adult, he has cared for his community through leading summer programs, the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and with Connect City and Colin McCartney, who works with MCEC.

“Violence is really hard in communities like Jane Finch,” CJ says. “The church helps a lot especially when you have the right people and mentors there for you. I feel like every pastor at Jane Finch impacted me in the right way.”

“Each pastor has left a little seed within me."

He names his childhood pastors, Amy and Clayton Kuepfer, as people who demonstrated to him the love and care that a husband and wife have for each other and for the community that they served. Pastor Nancy Brubaker was someone CJ was comfortable sharing with about his life and school. He names her as one who “motivated him.” When Hans Peters was pastor at Jane Finch, he intentionally mentored CJ and other young adults to lead the morning worship services. Most recently, he receives encouraging texts from Colin McCartney. “Each pastor has left a little seed within me,” he says.

Inner city kids at zoo

CJ obtained his social services worker diploma in 2017 and has recently returned to university to obtain an honours degree in social work.

“I have a good relationship with God and am a firm believer in him,” he says. “God has gotten me to where I am today through church and through those around me – my mom, my grandmother, pastors, and friends. Christ is my strength and my foundation and I am grateful.”