NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Long-time residents in Nashville's historic Jefferson Street corridor have seen abundant change over the years.

They witnessed pivotal civil rights protests during the 1960's and black businesses and entertainment venues featuring famed musicians that put their neighborhood on the map and world stage.

Today, numerous community leaders continue fighting for improvements they hope will propel Jefferson Street forward without forgetting the past.

Despite the fact that violent crime used to cast a negative shadow here all too frequently, those who remain invested in Jefferson Street still believe it is a viable place that greater Nashville should embrace and help cultivate.

High School principal, business owner and pastor Howard Jones is passionate when he says he's all about giving people who've made mistakes a second chance.

"It's killing our families. It's killing the country. It's killing the city in this zip code, 37208 zip code. Most of my friends have gone to the penitentiary," said Howard Jones.

Jones said people sometimes do things they shouldn’t, but once they’ve paid their debt to society, he believes they should have an opportunity to move on with their lives. He said his Jefferson Street Restaurant, Kingdom Cafe & Grill, is a prime example.

"This was born out of I was hungry, and you fed me. I was outdoors and you sheltered me. I was in prison and you visited me. It was born out of the mere fact of that's the rudiment of salvation,” said Howard Jones.

At Kingdom Cafe & Grill, hungry souls are fed, and tasty helpings of soul food are never in short supply. Customers of all ages entered the cafeteria-style restaurant to get their fill of delicious offerings.

Howard Jones' son, who is also named Howard, said it's hard to eat here and leave hungry.

"Day to day, we serve baked chicken, fried chicken, meatloaf, and array of deserts, and we cook up a lot of smiles here, you know. That's one thing we do here at Kingdom," said the younger Jones.

He adds, another thing is a positive mental attitude.

"That's one thing I like to promote here with my staff, motivating them to do better within themselves, spiritually, mentally and physically,” said Jones.

The smiles, camaraderie and warm atmosphere are only part of the story. Former criminals are often hired to help out here so they can get their lives back on track.

"Most of the decorations that you see were absolutely done by those who were previously convicted," said Pastor Jones, who guided us into the main dining area of the restaurant and showed us a custom wall that features intricate brick work and a unique a pair of trees.

Pastor Jones said the impressive display was all done by a former inmate.

"He did the stone work. All of that by hand. It touched me. It did. It did. It's very unique, very Kingdom. It's about family. The tree is also connected to the tree of life. It's about family," said Jones.

I asked Jones' son what it's like being able to work with his dad? "You know what. It's a dream come true for me. and he knows it," said a smiling younger Jones.

Father and son genuinely seemed happy to be working together, but I wondered aloud what happens when someone calls Howard Jones' name?

"Do people ever get you two confused," I asked? "Probably," they said. When I asked who was older, Pastor Jones pointed to his son and said, "He is."

Both men demonstrated a keen sense of humor and genuine pride in their business and the people who help make everything run so smoothly.

Kingdom Cafe & Grill also rents out event space and often features live music.

“It's important to keep live music going along Jefferson Street, because of its rich history with legends like Jimi Hendrix and others,” said the younger Jones.

Pastor Jones and his son believe they have something special here, a place that certainly feeds the community in more ways than one.

 
 

Anchor

Tom Randles is an award-winning reporter and anchor for News4 since 2006.

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