Prominence, prestige and power no longer fit into Duane Crabbs’ definition of leadership.
“To be a leader, you have to have followers and that has nothing to do with the ability to exert your will on others,” said Crabbs, founder of South Street Ministries. “Leadership is the willingness to take a platform and use it so that others can succeed. Leadership is empowering others and being willing to step back and let them lead.”
Crabbs, 54, said he struggles with being called a leader and considers himself “a servant who uses leadership only when necessary.”
The former firefighter–paramedic left his job to pastor in South Akron’s inner city and established South Street Ministries in 1997, with his wife of 30 years, Lisa. The ministry transitioned into a community development corporation in 2008 and now employs nine people, including Lisa Crabbs as administrative director and Joe Tucker as executive director.
“Duane has a unique gift of casting a vision and speaking that vision in a way that gets people excited about it and provokes them to take action to make it happen,” said Tucker, 26, who met Crabbs 10 years ago when his Boy Scout troop volunteered at South Street Ministries. “I would describe Duane as a visionary leader who genuinely extends himself to those who are willing to move toward the vision. He speaks life into those who may not traditionally be seen as leaders. He has a pastoral heart.”
In fact, Crabbs’ primary role these days is serving as pastor of South Street Church, which meets at 12:30 p.m. Sundays at the Front Porch Cafe. the Front Porch, located at 798 Grant St., is an outreach of South Street Ministries that provides jobs and job training for the unemployed and ex-offenders in one of Akron’s poorest neighborhoods. It serves as a neighborhood gathering place.
Crabbs also serves as an unpaid consultant for the nonprofit community development corporation and uses his community influence to help people network and collaborate. He was instrumental in helping organize a recent community event at the Akron Art Museum to give grass-roots leaders and activists — including block watch and community garden organizers, coaches, volunteers, social workers, police officers, students, parents, grandparents and entrepreneurs — an opportunity to come together and inspire each other to continue making a difference in the community.
“If I can use my white privilege to make life better for someone else, that’s what I will do,” Crabbs said. “As a leader, my job is to see the reality and not turn from it. As much as I would like to pretend that there is not racism, as much as I would like to pretend that there aren’t problems in poor communities, I see the reality. As a leader it is my responsibility to close the gap between that reality and the world as it should be.”
Lisa Crabbs said when she looks back on the time that she and her family have lived in the Summit Lake neighborhood, she is amazed at how the ministry has grown and been transformed. She credits her husband’s willingness to answer God’s call.
“Duane has a deep desire to follow God. He treats people with respect and has a gift to meet them where they’re at,” Lisa Crabbs said.
Crabbs credits his mentor, the late Patrick Armour, with helping him understand the culture in his inner-city neighborhood.
“Patrick was the co-founder of South Street Ministries. He took me under his wing and put me in some incredibly uncomfortable places,” said Crabbs, fighting back tears. “He taught me that it is more important to be genuine and truthful than to be powerful. He taught me that people will forgive you for your mistakes, if you’re real. There’s room to be faulty, but not false.”