Grace: From drug dealer to model citizen, Omaha pastor paved his path with 2nd chances

Julian Young talks to his religious group at a conference at the Goodwill near 72nd and Ames in Omaha on Jan. 29.

Julian Young might have wound up as one of those sad cliches — the troubled youth whose rough childhood, adolescent drug use, college drug dealing and violent temper landed him in jail or a grave.

Instead, he has published his fourth self-help book. He is drawing about two dozen young people to Wednesday night worship-inspiration seminars. And he is launching a church and finding stability as both a pastor and father.

Julian's path from drug dealer to model citizen hasn't been an easy, straight line.

But the 28-year-old has moved forward through his own drive and through the good will of others who kept giving him second chances — even when he faltered.

It also took the jolt of a question that came hard and without warning.

One night, Julian sat on a buddy's couch in the early-morning hours of a party that was just revving up. Everyone was making plans to take the party to a strip club. Julian was pondering the troubles he faced, including criminal charges for shoving a police officer during a scuffle.

He felt empty. He felt alone. He felt he had thrown away chance after chance. His principal at Omaha Benson High had given him the opportunity to finish high school, when it appeared he might not make it. He got into college at Wayne State and then flunked out. Wayne State gave him another chance, but Julian wound up spending more time selling drugs than going to class and flunked out again.

How long are you going to keep doing this?

The question popped into Julian's fogged brain as he sat on the couch at 2 in the morning.

How long are you going to keep doing this?

He had an instant, visceral reaction.

Julian, a tough guy who settled scores with punches, a calculating guy who knew how to grow a drug trade in a little college town, broke down. He cried. Right on that couch, right during that party.

He called his father and cried so hard into the phone he couldn't even speak.

Son, his dad said, why don't you just come home?

“I came home that night,” Julian recalled. “He held me, and I wept. I was tired of this. Tired of living like this. We talked all night. At that moment, I decided I wanted to change my life.”

So he did.

Julian had promised to do right before. Now, he had to convince a Wayne State review board that they should give him a third chance

This time will be different, Julian told them.

They let him back in. And to the disbelief of some of his former drug customers, Julian started a Bible study group. With the urging of a professor, he joined a student business leadership group and became its president.

Julian eventually transferred to Bellevue University. He was itching to put his business acumen into practice and saw a way to do that in the Omaha area.

He went to Bellevue for a year before being tapped to take on a bigger leadership role at a north Omaha church he was raised in: the Church of God in Christ Congregational. Julian served as assistant pastor. He married couples. He gave counsel. And when the bishop, the Rev. James Anderson, fell ill, Julian helped provide constant care. He fed him. He bathed him.

In those important, quiet acts, he felt released from the burden of his past. By then, Julian had been released from probation. He had learned that it took a lot of small and sometimes wayward steps to achieve big change.

Through it all, he took nothing for granted — fearing his past would yank him back.

So he chose not to look back.

Instead, he founded a business called Julian Young Worldwide. He became a minister through a North Carolina-based group called Redemption Ministerial Fellowship International. He gives inspirational speeches and goes to ministry seminars.

Julian has self-published two self-help books. An Oklahoma-based publishing company called Tate has published two others: “Limitless” last year and “Empowered to Win,” which came out Feb. 4. The latest book chronicles his life experience.

Julian did two other things to anchor himself on this path. He got married. And he started a church called Winner's Edge. Winner's Edge began meeting in a friend's basement in the fall of 2012. Last year, at its zenith, the church had 80 people worshipping on Sundays in a rented school auditorium.

Julian found running a church wasn't easy. Funds dried up, and Julian could no longer afford to rent the auditorium. His father's death last year shook him. Financial problems distracted him. Church members left.

Yet Julian and his wife, Brittany, and a core group of about 20 people kept the church going, meeting wherever they could find free space. Sometimes it was wherever they could be of service, like the time church members met downtown to hand out water and sandwiches to the homeless.

Julian's vision is to create a movement of people who will dedicate themselves as much to community service as to Sunday worship. He believes that helping your neighbor, cultivating the rough streets that give Omaha the unhappy distinction of having the nation's worst African-American homicide rate, will help turn things around. He is planning a Lenten service project that encourages people to do something for others for 40 days.

Julian sees it as a second chance for his church, and as a way to give second chances to others.

On a recent Wednesday night, Julian convened his most active members in a conference room at the Goodwill headquarters near 72nd Street and Ames Avenue.

He read a passage from the Bible's Book of Acts that describes how the Holy Spirit came to the disciples after Jesus had died. Julian explained how his congregation members, too, were to be on fire with faith and service.

They would commit to volunteering for the next six months and train to become disciples of the church, which is relaunching on Sunday. Services will be held at Nathan Hale Middle School, 6143 Whitmore St.

“God,” he told them, “has a plan for your life.”

Then he elaborated: That plan is to discover their talents, bond together as friends and find duty and passion in service.

“Are you with me?” he asked. The young people in attendance nodded enthusiastically and said yes.

“Are you with each other?” he asked. They said yes again.

“You are the seeds,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”

This is yet another chance.

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