Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisc., then 11 years old, Donnell desired the fancy new cars and the cash-filled pockets of his older teenage cousin.
In middle school, Donnell smoked marijuana, sometimes laced with cocaine. Later, his life decisions cost him the chance to attend Alabama State University. He graduated early from high school, but instead of college, he went to jail.
As a gang member and drug dealer for more than 20 years, Donnell enjoyed the rush that street life gave him. "The thrill, the popularity and the respect people gave you for being who and what you were," Donnell said. "You're this big person when you are out there. It's like a drug."
Although street life had some benefits, it also raised questions in his mind. He found the answers at a little church in the neighborhood.
Broken Chain Ministries is a church a few blocks from where Donnell grew up. He noticed people from the church doing good things.
Donnell saw "love in action" through the Boxes of Love outreach provided by Here's Life Inner City. This partnership with local churches, like Broken Chain Ministries, is a staple of the Here's Life Inner City ministry.
When a Box of Love was given to Donnell's grandmother, he noticed.
"They give us a box of free stuff, and I was wondering what they're up to," Donnell said. "It was just for love, and that meant a lot to me and my family."
But it took an invitation to come to the New Year's Eve service before Donnell's life changed. He had come to church that night only because he wanted to please the pastor, but his heart really wasn't in it.
That night, the pastor said, "You can get yourself right with God. He will give you a second opportunity to get yourself together."
Donnell didn't want to miss the opportunity God was giving him at a second chance. "God had been tugging on my heart," he said.
During the altar call, he put his gun in the offering bucket and placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
Leaving his past behind, Donnell, now 35, remains a changed man 15 months after placing his pistol at the altar.
"Everything about me is different. I am a completely changed person. I get tempted [about going back], but what would that do for all the people that saw me change my life? I can be in this for myself no more; I have to stay in it for my family," he said.
"Things are changing," Donnell's pastor, Milton Adams, said. "Donnell tells someone about Christ, and then they tell somebody else. There is a domino effect."
His cousin Priscilla was the first to come and see what God was doing in his life. Then another cousin, who was a gang member and drug dealer, wanted to come. After that, the rest of the family took notice.
Donnell's cousins and uncle have placed their faith in Jesus. His grandmother and mother attend Broken Chain Ministries. His daughter, cousin and nephew attend the Here's Life Inner City S.A.Y. Yes! center, a biblically based program that takes place after school at the church.
"Thank God for that little church in the hood," Donnell said. "There is just something about it that is drawing people to it."
It drew Donnell. Now he is helping it do the same for others.
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