Hickory – James Smith was eight years old in 1997 when his mother, the Rev. Susan Smith Walker, took him to a new church in Hickory shortly after moving there from Charlotte. Exodus Missionary Outreach Church was only three weeks old and meeting in a local funeral home, the Dirk M. Thompson Mortuary Chapel. That was the beginning of a life long relationship with the Exodus ministry. James and his sister Rachael grew up in Exodus Church and were witnesses to the founding of Exodus Homes, the faith based United Way supportive housing program for homeless recovering people returning to the community from treatment centers and prison. His mother worked long hours and James was often there with her at Exodus Homes after school and on the weekends. Smith has seen the struggle of homeless recovering people, and also the joy of their transformation. “My mom has given her life to Exodus, and it is as much a part of me as it is for her.”
Today James is a very successful mural artist from Asheville with plans to move to San Diego soon to pursue his dreams. Before he leaves for the west coast he came back to Hickory to spend some time with his mom, and leave his mark on Exodus as they prepare to take the organization to the next level with a $1,057,000 capital campaign which is underway now. Part of the capital campaign project is the purchase of a 12,000 sq.ft building at 610 4th St. SW in Hickory where the organization plans to consolidate the management activities of Exodus Homes, their vocational training enterprises Exodus Works, and their thrift store. When they bought the building, they decided the 20ft x 40ft outside wall would be perfect for a mural to communicate their mission. “We knew long ago that James would be our mural artist because he is a part of the Exodus family,” said the Rev. Reggie Longcrier, executive director of Exodus Homes.
Exodus Homes and Exodus Works are primarily operated by the residents of the program in volunteer staff roles, and primarily funded with revenue generated by them in Exodus Works, as well as fees paid by those who work in outside employment. One recovering person helping another is at the core of their organizational values. The mural is built around a theme of “transformed people transforming people” with images that show a commitment to diversity and equality for all people. Smith created the original design, and has been working on the mural for a week. The mural is already blessing the community as people driving by slow down, honk their horns, and shout things like “Amazing!” and Beautiful!” He still has a few finishing touches to do, while also working on murals inside of the building where the thrift store will be located. “I have designed the murals inside to communicate the miracles of recovery such as joy, gratitude, peace, dignity, and victory. People will feel a part of our ministry when they enter, and leave with an uplifted spirit” he said.
The Rev. Susan Smith Walker is very proud of her son’s work in what is bound to become a Hickory landmark, saying “My son has a God-given gift. He never went to art school or took an art lesson, but he is more talented than many who have trained for years. As he goes to follow his dreams in San Diego, the gift of these murals will bless me with his presence every time I see them.”
Photos: James Smith is seen with the original outdoor mural he created for the new building of Exodus Homes and Exodus Works at 610 4th St. SW in Hickory. James Smith is seen creating original murals inside the thrift store area of the new Exodus Homes and Exodus Works building at 610 4th St. SW in Hickory.