Published: August 29, 2012
"Everybody that makes a wish in there I tell them, 'Remember, you're sending a blessing out to Jesus, and if you want your blessing to come true like everybody else's, you can't go in that pond and touch nothing. When you go take that money out you're stealing someone's blessing, and the more you steal out of that pond the more God gonna whoop you.' And it's been less thieves taking money out of that pond now."
As the neighborhood came alive again, and the drabness gave way to color bursting out from flowerbeds and paintings, neighbors started showing up to help. "I was running out of money and I told the Lord, 'I ain't gonna stop, but I need some help,' and God started sending people gradually. Sometimes one come and dig a hole, sometimes one cut the grass."
And sometimes people give her money. She has no job, but instead relies, she says, on God to give her what she calls "financial blessings." She gets enough money here and there to buy a new tool or two sometimes, or paint for the art project, or replacements for the lawn mowers and tillers that people keep stealing from her yard. She's also bought two empty houses on the block from the city. Of course, she just turned them over to others who had no place of their own to stay.
But she might need one of them soon for herself. "That's actually the one I'm trying to move in now because the people has taken over this one," she says, standing in her front yard, pointing to an old red house across the field.
That apartment building sat abandoned for years. It's a three-level, multi-unit shell with all its windows gone and its doors pried open. Carey watched every day as the junkies went inside to shoot up and nod out, as the hookers took their dates in there, as the homeless spent their nights in there. It lingered in the neighborhood like a tumor, sapping the strength of everything around it. Then the visions were given to her.
First thing she did, she says, was board up the windows herself. "It cost me $700 cash to do all the boards. I went to Home Depot and got 'em. I still got every receipt." Those boards would be her canvases.
She can draw a little, but she couldn't match the splendor of the religious imagery in her mind. That's when, she says, God brought her Leon the painter.
Well, a prostitute did, actually. "This young lady that works on Mack, she dates guys on Mack. He brought her to my house to get her something to eat. I went to bed at night, the Lord said, 'That's who you're gonna get because he's going to work with you side by side and he ain't gonna hold you up.'"
Leon Goodin has been a sign painter for years, putting colorfully stenciled ads on the brick walls of mom-and-pop shops all over the city. A few days later, Carey approached him as he stood by his work truck and said with sheer certitude, "Mr. Leon, I got an ongoing project that I'm going to need your help with."
For some reason he was drawn to this woman and her inspired, idealistic personality. She even got him to start attending church regularly for the first time in years, as she has with other neighbors. She doesn't proselytize so much as present a serene hopefulness in the midst of the misery around her that draws her neighbors to her like moths to a light.
But Goodin, like many of Carey's friends, worries about her boundless generosity. "She's too nice," the 61-year-old painter says. "People are trying to tell her that. But if someone asks for something, if she has it she gives it to them. People be trying to tell her, 'Don't give everything away like that!'"
At first, Carey paid Goodin for his help, but as the project grew in time and scope, she wasn't able to cover the cost. And he began skipping paying jobs to instead continue this work.
"Mr. Leon didn't accept no money no more, so I have to sometimes just push the money on him," Carey says." It's only enough to get gas and paint, but basically Mr. Leon has been doing the painting for nothing. He works for me in between his jobs, and sometimes he don't go on his jobs."
The first painting went up on the side of the building facing McClellan. It shows Lucifer as he's thrown out of heaven in a burst of pastel colors. Alongside him are comet-like spheres containing fellow fallen angels being cast out of paradise. It depicts what she sees as the root cause of the bad things in the neighborhood.
"There was so much happening around here," she says. "The women was getting stabbed on Mack. The prostitutes didn't have nowhere to stay or eat or none of that. I put that up because I couldn't understand why things was going so bad, and the first thing that came to mind was Lucifer."
The second is of Carey herself as an angel with a horn to her lips, with the caption "Kat Trumpeting Jesus." Then came images of Noah in his ark, John the Baptist in the river, Jesus in the manger, Moses on the mountain; all the iconic stories from the Bible that would be instantly recognizable, even by those who haven't thought about these tales since they were children. It was her way of confronting the chaos of the neighborhood with reminders of fundamental spiritual concepts. And to some degree, it worked.
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