BOUNDARY ISSUES: Wall doesn’t see the need to separate his ministry from his gift for self-promotion.
Bruce Wall is blessed with a talent for publicity. In 2006, the diminutive, walrus-mustachioed minister who heads Dorchester’s Global Ministries Christian Church was mentioned in 37 stories published in the Globe or the Herald; the year before, he’d garnered 49 mentions. Even by Wall’s lofty standards, though, the attention he’s currently receiving — which has turned him into Boston mayor Tom Menino’s most prominent critic and a designated spokesperson for the city’s communities of color, whether they want him or not — is remarkable.
After Chiara Levin, a young woman visiting from New York, was fatally shot at a house party in Dorchester on March 24, Wall told tourists to steer clear of the city: “You will take your life into your own hands if you travel to Boston,” Wall warned in a blast fax/e-mail, his preferred mode of communication. “The city has lost the ability to stop the murders in Boston.” In person, the 59-year-old Wall is affable and unguarded, with the meek manner of a substitute teacher; his public proclamations strike a decidedly different note.
Wall subsequently backed the Guardian Angels’ current foray into Boston, taking it upon himself to act as the group’s local liaison. In the two weeks following his warning, he was mentioned in two dozen Globe and Herald articles, editorials, columns, and letters to the editor, including two stories that cited his possible candidacy for the Boston City Council; featured as an in-studio guest by WBZ radio host Paul Sullivan, NECN’s Jim Braude, and WRKO’s Todd Feinburg; and cited in TV news reports on NECN, WCVB, WBZ-TV, and FOX-25.
As Wall sees it, the uptick in attention augurs well for his own future as a media personality. Right now, his portfolio is a modest one: he broadcasts on two local AM stations, WJDA 1300 and WRCA 1330, and has a weekly program on Boston Neighborhood Network, the city’s public-access station. But Wall dreams of becoming much, much bigger. He envisions TV and radio broadcasts beloved by listeners and advertisers around the country; revenue streams that make him a financially independent, evangelizing benefactor; even a sideline doing PR for other churches. Wall claims he’s currently exploring a joint-ownership role in a local AM station (though he won’t say which one), receiving regular on-air coaching from a major Boston radio personality (again, he won’t say which one), and preparing to launch a once-weekly appearance on a top-ranked radio station in another market (sorry, can’t say).
Whatever comes of these grand plans, there’s peril as well as promise in Wall’s current situation. His public profile may be higher than ever, but so is skepticism about his methods and motivation. And if the latter sours Wall’s relationship with Boston media, he won’t be able to indulge his dreams of broadcasting greatness. Instead, he’ll be scrambling to maintain whatever influence he still has.
On an unseasonably chilly afternoon last week, Wall huddled with a dozen or so other people at the intersection of Columbia Road and Washington Street in Dorchester, waiting for the Route 23 bus. Six days earlier, Dwayne Graham, an 18-year-old from Hyde Park, was fatally shot at this same spot while on board the 23, becoming Boston’s 16th homicide victim of 2007. Now Wall and MBTA police chief Joseph Carter — accompanied by three red-jacketed Guardian Angels, a few of Carter’s subordinates, and a passel of local journalists — planned to ride the route to demonstrate its safety.