By JOHN FORTMEYER
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Eldridge Broussard III is in growing demand as an inspiring and positive speaker. Not only did he speak several weeks ago at one of the two largest prayer breakfasts in this part of the Northwest — an annual Clark County event — but he also will speak next spring at the other – the annual Portland breakfast on Good Friday in March.
And yet, it’s not the positives, but the past negatives in his life, that have made Broussard at times hesitant to tell his story. And why he confessed to the hundreds who attended the Clark County gathering on Oct. 30 at the Vancouver Hilton that he was close to tears from anxiety.
“I’m scared to tell you guys what God has put on my heart,” he said.
But he said he had no other option.
“God clearly put on my heart, ‘How many people are being hurt because you won’t tell your story?’ ’’ he said.
Broussard’s story is a unique and complex one. It begins with tragic, much-publicized circumstances in his childhood, followed by continued deep struggles in his growing-up years, but today it finds him in adulthood as a respected community and business leader and youth mentor with a firm foundation in Christ.
Broussard was one of 53 children in a commune removed from their parents’ custody after the 1988 beating death of his younger sister; he was 9 at the time. The tragedy, which drew national headlines, occurred in a setting that some likened to a cult and which was headed by his now-deceased father, Eldridge Broussard Jr.
The younger Broussard became a ward of Oregon’s foster care system, living in 22 different homes. By now, filled with anger — “I was taught to hate my father,” he explained — he was expelled repeatedly from school and became a gang member. But at the same time, a youth pastor at a Gresham church took an interest in him and Broussard wound up living in two different worlds — one with church friends and the other with the gangs. “And the two didn’t know about each other,” he said.
One night a threat from rival gang members prompted Broussard to shoot 14 rounds into a car, striking three out of the five occupants of the vehicle. He could have faced 80 years in prison for attempted murder, but he instead received a four-year prison sentence — later reduced to two and a half years — for unlawful use of a weapon. But after only a year, he instead was sent to a correctional “boot camp” to serve the rest of his time.
That experience, coupled with his years of turmoil in childhood, caused Broussard to feel bitterness toward God. He also became a drug dealer.
But the Troutdale Home Depot store — which did not know of Broussard’s criminal record because it had been eventually been expunged by the legal system — hired him. “I went from selling crack cocaine to selling appliances,” he said.
Because of Broussard’s skill at spotting shoplifters (“My boss said, ‘There’s just something about you; you’re able to spot a criminal a mile away,’ ’’), he became a store security manager. He later secured a similar position at Costco, and was making a high salary, all the while keeping his own criminal past a secret. “I was able to hide all my negatives,” he said.
But a “meltdown” one day at the store in an argument with a co-worker brought his secret out in the open.
One day when a disagreement with a neighbor became heated, Broussard thought responding police were arresting him when they were actually just briefly isolating him in their squad car to cool things down. When the two police officers later came back to apologize for how they handled things, it touched Broussard’s heart and showed him how he, as an African-American, had carried wrong attitudes.
“We all have character flaws,” he said. “We all have prejudices, but it’s not about those prejudices, it’s what we do with them.”
Broussard realized also that there was deep value in being open about his life, even though it is never easy.
“This platform seems to be about all the dirt I’ve done in my life, and believe me, I get tired of hearing that,” he said.
Broussard said communities in today’s racially tense society can change for the better when people “believe in the potential” of others who are on both sides of the law and when they are encouraged to allow God to do His work.
“This world needs a practical example of what Jesus is doing in our lives,” he told the crowd.
Broussard today coaches teens through his Broussard Foundation and also is a consultant to leaders in the corporate world.
The breakfast was sponsored by Christian Chamber of Commerce of the Northwest, Serving Our Neighbors and Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship in America. The event also gave special honors to Rev. Bill Ritchie, founding pastor of Crossroads Community Church, one of the county’s largest congregations. Ritchie said it was never his intention to become a pastor and have a nationwide radio ministry, but that a willingness to follow God’s leading is key to fulfillment in life.
“Go after the stuff that He says to do,” said Ritchie. “As long as you’re willing to do that, God can do great things.”
Although now retired from the head pastoral position, Ritchie said that at age 71 “he is just getting started.”
“The best is yet to come,” he told the breakfast crowd. “We’ve got lots to put on the table.”
By JOHN FORTMEYER