Jan. 24 2019 11:06 AM

Most of his profits go toward trying to steer inner-city kids away from the streets-to-prison pipeline.

Justin Chappell is a landscape contractor on a mission. According to a story by David Dunn, published in the Waxahatchie, Texas, Daily Light, the owner of Bama Landscaping in Ennis has a passion for helping fatherless youth stay on the right path in life.

Chappell himself grew up without a father, and he knows what it’s like to succumb to the lure of gangs and drugs, because he did. “I started trafficking, living that lifestyle,” he told Dunn, even as his mother kept after him to stop all that and go to church.

Eventually, he was arrested for drug possession. Bail was set at $150,000, and his mother didn’t have the money. “It was my rock-bottom,” he told Dunn. “I remember praying to God, and it was like ‘God, if you get me out of here, I will go to that church my Momma has been telling me about. I promise.’

That same week, Chappell’s stepfather won a lawsuit he’d been pursuing for about a decade and paid the bail. Finding himself free, on probation, “was like a reality check,” he told the reporter. He cried and thanked the judge for not sending him to prison.

Chappell started going to church, just as he’d promised, and his outlook on life began to change. But he had difficulty finding a job because of his criminal record. Around that time, a close friend was released after 10 years in prison.

While discussing what they could do to make money, Chappell asked his friend what he was good at. He said, “Cutting grass.” That gave Chappell the idea of starting a landscape company, which he named Bama after the state he was born in, Alabama.

“I was doing this broke, making $500 every two weeks, a single father with a one-year-old and a three-year-old,” he told Dunn. “It’s sad, but it’s motivation.”

Knowing how difficult it is for former inmates to find employment, Chappell offered jobs to them once they’d served their sentences. Since then, he’s purchased six trucks and partners with the Ellis and Navarro County probation departments to find workers.

“I open it up,” Chappell told Dunn. “Guys that normally can’t find jobs, I’ll hook them up with a job and give them a truck. Then they’ll pretty much create their own business.”

Chappell owns another business, Chappell’s Copieshop in Waxahachie. And though he told the story’s author that he works “tirelessly” throughout the week for both businesses, they function mainly to fund his real passion: Bloodz For Christ, a nonprofit he founded in 2009 to support and minister to inner-city youth in low-income communities. He told Dunn that he donates “probably about 85 percent” of whatever profits he makes to BOC “to keep these kids off the streets.”

Having seen many kids in the same dangerous situations he once was in, Chappell helps them via one-on-one mentorships and by developing positive relationships with adults that they may not have at home. BOC has activities for the kids such as dance-offs and the opportunity to make their own music using Chappell’s own recording equipment. In addition, the organization partners with the Boys and Girls Club in Ennis where Chappell himself trains the youth basketball team on Sundays.

“I go to poverty-stricken areas, and I lay my smack-down,” he told Dunn. “I gather as many kids as I can get, and they just come to me like a magnet. I’m like a celebrity when it comes to kids.”

“Black males with no father, it’s like a cycle,” Chappell told the reporter. “And I know the only way to break the cycle, because I’m supposed to be a statistic. You mold them. You teach them. You show them how to make it.”

Still, three of the six kids he started BOC with have since gone to prison. But he’s not giving up on them — when they get out, they’ll find a job waiting for them at Bama Landscaping.

Chappell says he’s grateful for the opportunities he’s been given to help guide kids toward a better future. “I’m doing something positive and feeling blessed from it,” he said to Dunn. “We’re saving lives, man.”