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Evelyn Irving-Jackson’s olive-green Hummer takes up two of the four pint-sized parking spaces in front of the 1100-square-foot Trinity House thrift shop. The ostentatious gas guzzler seems incongruous, not only with the size of the lot and the run-down environment of the National City neighborhood but also with the purpose of the thrift shop itself: to benefit the nonprofit organization of the same name, which provides transitional housing to “underserved individuals and families in need.” But an afternoon spent with the Trinity House founder makes it clear that she doesn’t give two hoots about congruity.

“I’m definitely an anomaly,” she’ll tell me before the day is over. “I’m not the norm.”

True. Not everyone can boast bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer-software engineering, ten years of dedication toward a doctorate in information technology (“all but the dissertation”), and a history of overdoses, prostitution, jail time, and homelessness, all in the name of drug addiction.

Even her jeans and faded blue T-shirt are out of harmony with the ornate fingernails and toenails done up in gold and swirls.

At the moment, Miss Evelyn (“that’s what the girls call me”) sits upright in a rolling chair in the shop’s back office, telling me that, the way she sees it, “there is no black San Diego.”

Such a statement would not be unusual if preceded by, say, a glance at a tourist brochure for America’s Finest City. But coming from Miss Evelyn, it’s…odd. Black herself, the 49-year-old was raised in Skyline East, surrounded by a good part of San Diego’s six-percent-black population. Her friends growing up were black, and today, as she runs down a mental list of current friends, she says, “Vanessa, black. Julia, black. Susan, white, but she has a mixed daughter. She’s got a little jungle fever.”

And yet Miss Evelyn has considered moving her family someplace where the black community is more “cohesive.” Atlanta, maybe. Or somewhere in Alabama.

Recently, she and a new acquaintance (also black) who runs a nonprofit organization that was in need of a board member, decided to join each other’s boards, but it didn’t work out the way that she’d hoped.

“I was going to their meetings, but they never came to mine. It’s that type of thing.” This is what she means when she speaks of the lack of cohesion in San Diego’s black community. “I think, culturally, we just don’t work together the way some cultures do. When I look at other demographics, like Hispanics, they seem to live in the same house and work together. And even if they don’t go to college, they own the business that you’re [patronizing]. That’s a lot of power.”

Miles Davis’s “’Round Midnight” drifts through the shop from a boombox on a shelf in the office. The music’s moodiness doesn’t quite fit with the musty printed dresses and cluttered thrift-store atmosphere. (“We keep it on Smooth Jazz [KIFM/98.1] because they’re our media sponsor,” she says.)

Miss Evelyn takes a deep breath, exhales, and then launches into a brief monologue about the goodness of God, how she relies on Him to take care of her needs, and the miracles He performs every day.

“God has been faithful,” she concludes. “I know that this is His deal, it’s not my deal. I just show up and participate and make myself available.”

The “this” of which she speaks is Trinity House, begun by Miss Evelyn and her husband Glen six years ago. In addition to providing housing to homeless families, the organization also helps residents develop goals, budgets, and daily task lists as part of their transition back into independent living.

“It’s a challenge being the founder, executive director, case manager, accounts payable, accounts receivable, human resources, grant writer, you know — everything, and trying to have a family. We have four homes that we operate for the homeless, so we’re talking anywhere from 30 to 40 people who have issues. And their issues have issues.”

Because Evelyn and Glen believe in the importance of reciprocity, Trinity House residents have to “give back” ten hours a month, at least two of which must be spent working at the thrift shop. The other eight can include babysitting for another resident while she goes to a doctor’s appointment or soliciting donations over the phone. Other house rules include remaining clean and sober at all times and attending at least two self-help groups, anything from parenting classes or Bible Study to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. As simple as the Trinity House rules sound, not every resident complies.

“The people that we deal with are so raw and so unappreciative sometimes, and so harsh,” she says.

An older, light-skinned man in a white T-shirt and jeans comes through the shop and pokes his head into the office. His name is Edmond, and aside from Evelyn and Glen, he’s the sole employee of Trinity House. His hours are paid for by a Community Options program, which employs seniors and hires them out to government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Edmond asks what Miss Evelyn wants him to bring in from her car.

“There’s a bag on my front seat, and then you’ll see a chair,” she says. “Anything that’s not Mary Kay.”

As she flaps her hand in the direction of the Hummer to indicate where Edmond will find the donations, a giant pink gemstone on her right ring finger catches the light. She’ll later tell me it was a prize for recruiting 14 new Mary Kay beauty consultants in one month. Half of those 14 are Trinity House residents.

When Edmond leaves, we continue our conversation about the Trinity House residents.

“A lot of them call me Mom,” she says, “and sometimes I am Mom: ‘How come there’s dishes in the sink? How come this? And how come that?’ Some of them can run you down and make every issue they have your issue. I’ve really learned how to set boundaries.”

Until this moment, her round face and frameless glasses have given me a serious, motherly vibe, but now, as she discusses her residents, the formality of her posture collapses and gives way to a demeanor that’s less church, more street.

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Comments

DoraDale June 9, 2011 @ 5:50 p.m.

Yes, Ms. Irving-Jackson is definitely an anomaly. While she and her husband should be applauded for all the work they are doing for the homeless in San Diego, the title of the story is misleading. She certainly does not represent the rest of the six percent of San Diegans who are Black. To paraphrase Ms. Irving-Jackson....."she got issues".

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Radical Uterus June 10, 2011 @ 4:52 p.m.

That's funny I feel the same way about a penis as she does about her hair.

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evelynirving June 12, 2011 @ 12:18 p.m.

hahahaaa -- too funny -- I say hmmmm... that left me contemplating my purchasing power lol!

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BobbyH3 June 15, 2011 @ 8:52 a.m.

The title is spot-on. I'm not black, but if I were, I can imagine myself attending family functions where - no matter how hard one tries to ignore it - the running theme is always geared towards drug addiction, joblessness, incarceration... How do you buy yourself out of that? Every birthday, every holiday, every family reunion is a reminder of someone not able to attend because they have'issues'. If I were black, I'd think there was a conspiracy against my color, too. Luckily, I'm white, so i'm afforded the convenience to pretend that the 'Black San Diego' doesn't exist, that there are no Miss Evelyns out there fighting for survival.

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evelynirving June 15, 2011 @ 10:10 p.m.

Unfortunately, this type of article may perpetuate the type of thinking that is illustrated in BobbyH3's response. For this I do apologize -- although I have no control over what other people think, but do take responsibiity for any actions that I illustrate to encourage that thinking.

BobbyH3, I don't want you to think that Black people own the market on drug addiction, joblessness, and incarceration -- these things do not see color. And trust, the topic at Black Folks birthdays, family reunions, and holidays are not geared toward drug addiction, joblessness, and incarceration -- I would love to see you invited so that you can see for yourself. Oh, and one more thing -- this country has been plagued with conspiracy (in theory and actions) that are not isolated to Black People -- just look at the American Indian -- who now, by the way are getting rich through gaming. I just thought I would go on record -- all in fun.

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strinity June 18, 2011 @ 9:59 p.m.

This is irresponsible journalism at best! Ms. Evelyn Irving-Jackson’s perception of Black San Diego is as off based as her and her so call “nonprofit organization”. As a previous resident of the Trinity House, I can honestly state that Evelyn, compassion is for financial gain. We were treated poorly, everything was about the dollar.... I and others were disrespected and dishonored while living at the Trinity House.... Evelyn is not and never has been consider a community leader. Most professionals of African Ancestry know the value and the history of Black San Diego. How dare her state that we don’t exist.

Did Ms. Salaam, dare to check the background of Evelyn...?

Black San Diego has made countless contributions the San Diego finest city. I am simply ashamed, let down and embarrassed of this unfound article! Perhaps, the reason that she has no “black friends; is because our community can recognize a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

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evelynirving June 18, 2011 @ 10:59 p.m.

The previous post is real funny -- I especially wish the part about collecting a salary were true! That definitely isn't the case but I wish it were -- so that piece of information is definitely wrong. I appreciate your response and candidness to your feelings toward us. And yes, do check my arrest record -- it is definitely public record. But if you want to make it easy on yourself -- just ask me. I'm as transparent as transparent can be. Just as is my post, I don't have to hide behind an alias.

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SurfPuppy619 Dec. 7, 2012 @ 5:23 p.m.

But if you want to make it easy on yourself -- just ask me. I'm as transparent as transparent can be

How much was your gross income on your last years, 2011, W-2 form?

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evelynirving Jan. 8, 2013 @ 9:08 p.m.

Oh wow -- I just happen to pop over here and saw this question. What was last years 2011 W-2 Income .. Zero!

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Subec Dec. 7, 2012 @ 3:19 p.m.

This article is not only misleading but, extremely insulting to the 6% of blacks that do reside in San Diego. Perhaps drugs, crime, and prostitution is a part of her everyday reality. As a native black San Diegan I can say without a doubt it is not mine. I don't know anyone black like the people she and her husband describe as the reason for a non cohesive black community in San Diego. I applaud the work that she does but, I think this is a prime example once again of irresponsible journalism by the San Diego Reader.

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evelynirving Jan. 8, 2013 @ 9:15 p.m.

I kinda have to agree there. I was somewhat surprised when I read the article myself, but stand by everything that I said and the way that I feel. In the end, those that read it either loved me more for having the courage to speak my truth, or hated me and felt some kind of way about it. Some even called and wanted to participate with what we are doing -- be a part of the solution, rather than just sit on the side lines and complain about it. Nevertheless, it is my truth no matter how it portrayed whomever took ownership. At the end of the day though, most people would not be about the risks we take on a daily basis, the sacrifices we have made to help others, and how tremendously blessed we are to acknowledge that even in our own shortcomings, we can help someone less fortunate. Now can the church say Amen!

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awareness123 Feb. 12, 2013 @ 4:27 p.m.

I want to first off by saying thank you for your caring heart and tough love you are spreading in San Diego. I work at a non-profit bookstore in East Village and have also been interviewed by the San Diego reader. I'm aware that they can and do mislead readers. During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade alot of Africans lost their name, children, family, spirituality, self-respect, identity and soul. Many African Americans are now waking up and picking up the pieces of their identity. I also believe that the government is still enslaving African American men, women, and child mentally and physically. In school they teach the children white washed curriculum. Did you know the original statue of liberty design was a African American, or that George Washington was the 8th president and that the first one was a African American named John Hanson. However, the pictures may NOW be lighten up to portray a white man. And the highly profitable prison business. I am 100% down for helping hand in hand with the African American community and agree that we have to stop talking and take action. Anyone reading this and want to know more about African American lost legacy watch Hidden Colors 1 &2 to start with. There are also many books and other movies that are not in the movie theater that reveal the past and present government propaganda. ****African American keep an eye on where you spend your money. We need to support African American businesses. Oh yeah love your natural hair it’s what God blessed you with.

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SurfPuppy619 Feb. 12, 2013 @ 4:41 p.m.

George Washington was the 8th president and that the first one was a African American named John Hanson

Good comment, except for this^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^.

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