Cleaning Up the City
Every month in the Baltimore neighborhood of Carrolton Ridge, volunteers from the CityBeat Baltimore Dream Center wade through piled up mattresses, torn apart trash cans and blocked alleys — physically cleaning up the area while sharing about Jesus as they go.
Dream Center founder and CEO Jared E. Michael, 28, knows these streets. He grew up in the neighborhood as his father, Ed C. Michael, pastored Westside Assembly of God.
Deeply affected by the high rate of drug abuse, prostitution, and gang violence he witnessed as a child, Jared dealt with fear and nightmares from his experience. Ed went on to pastor Eastern Assembly of God outside the city limits, and Jared left Baltimore to attend James River College in Ozark, Missouri.
Michael returned to Maryland and spent six years at Eastern Assembly youth pastoring a group of teens battling drug addictions, child prostitution, and gang pressure. He then founded CityBeat Dream Center in 2015.
“God really started speaking to me about ministering to more than just teenagers, and, birthing a ministry that would minister to the whole family,” he says.
The ministry began with monthly Adopt-a-Block outreaches in impoverished communities around the city, including work with the homeless and kids’ outreaches to help protect children from gang influence. After four years, efforts include feeding programs, targeted outreaches called “Dream Kids,” street evangelism, and picking up trash.
“The neighborhood is just trash central,” Michael says. “Dealers and pimps block the alleys with trash so cops can’t get through, and they can do their drug deals in the middle of the alley. We’ll do big cleanups, loading dumpsters to get all the big stuff. We focus on letting people see the value in making this place the best we can.”
The Dream Center also runs Bread of Life, a semiweekly feeding program giving 150-200 locals a fresh meal. Michael’s wife, Ashley, 24, is the Dream Center executive director. She says the feeding ministry focuses on befriending residents. Since January, the center has distributed 3,200 meals.
“During our feeding, we take the time to build relationships with people because that’s the time they come into church,” she says.
Almost two years ago, Ashley and a Dream Center women’s team began ministering in local strip clubs through the center’s Starry Night outreach. She says the center works in six clubs throughout the city, bringing pink gift bags and cards for those in the industry. Volunteers write messages such as “You are loved by your Heavenly Father” on the cards.
Michael says two years ago, he felt God calling him to plant a church to welcome the people being reached. After looking for locations, Michael received a call from his father last summer. The church of Jared’s childhood, Westside Assembly of God, needed a pastor. Michael became lead pastor in September 2018, rechristening the church as CityBeat Church with the support of congregants and former pastors.
“What God has been doing is something beyond words can even say,” Michael says. “We meet the needs of anyone who walks through our door, whether prostitute, pimp, drug dealer, drug lord, addict, homeless.”
Michael says the Dream Center, while a separate 501C nonprofit, is connected closely with and centrally located at the church.
Ashley says even the simplest act of picking up trash has shown residents the love God has for the community.
“I feel like God has been dealing with my heart to say it may look like the valley of dry bones right now, but we are really believing one day it’s going to be the land of the living,” she says.