The organ is not a commonly-played instrument. But Briston Bradley admits he is not a common man, and he has become determined to learn to play his church’s organ.
“I learned that the organ can create such an atmosphere,” Bradley explained.
“And it can take you to certain places—sometimes in the spirit—that you wouldn’t normally go without music. And so, just the tunes, the music that it makes, the energy that it creates, is very exciting to me.”
Growing up in Malvern, Bradley created what he calls a “stupid” atmosphere for himself. He ran the streets, dealt drugs, and earned a target more than a reputation.
“Sooner or later, if you don’t get caught… it’s only two ways you’re gonna end up,” he said. “You’re gonna either end up in jail, you’re gonna either end up in the grave. And so, my life was spared, because I was able to have a second chance to give that up and a lot of people don’t get that chance.”
That second chance came in 2011. Bradley was a passenger in a car that crashed while traveling 115 miles per hour. He flew through the windshield and went blind as a result.
“It was a hard change,” he said of losing his eyesight. “I went through a big depression state. I remember sometimes, in the morning, I would just be against the wall, just rocking back and forth. I couldn’t even look my own daughter in the eyes because I felt like I was a failure. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like life was over, that I would never be able to live again, that I would just someone that people always had to look after or look for.
“And I’ve always had this independent mentality: I gotta get it. You know, that dog mentality, that’s always been me. I’ve always been that fighter, and so, to feel like I was losing that, it was very hard. Very hard.”
But in his depression and his pain, Bradley found a new perspective on who he was and who he wanted to be. “It was some things that I’m not even proud of, but it made me who I am today,” he stated. “But, I try to turn back, or reach, anyone I can from going down that path that I went down, because it was very rugged, very ugly, and if I can keep anyone from going down that path, I’ve really done my job.”
Bradley said he had a conversation with God and vowed to be a humble servant. And that is why, on any given night, you might find Bradley not at the organ but on the pulpit at Greater Works Christian Church. He hopes to inspire through a mix of revival-style preaching and personal testimony.
“The message that I give people is really, encouragement,” he said. “I try to encourage the best way I can, because I know how it feels not to be encouraged, to be going through, not knowing who’s there, where it’s gonna come from.”
He preaches healing and hope in church and in the community. Bradley said he frequently talks with young people who resemble the man he used to be. His goal is to help them see that there is another way in life.
“You have to be transparent with the generation that we have coming up,” Bradley stated. “So, a lot of them are visual, and they would tell you, ‘if you ain’t been through nothin’, if you ain’t been through what I’ve (been) through, what I’ve gone through, then you can’t help me.’ And so, sometimes, with tears in my eyes when I’m talking to them, they can see the actual, heartfelt, drenched things that I went through, that I’ve told them.”
Tears flow easily for Bradley, but he says they are a sign of happiness now. He is happily married with four children. He wrote a book about his journey, as well, Blind but Not Broken. He wrote about his scars—physical and emotional—and how he both healed and tries to heal others.
“Because I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done,” he says now. “It actually made me a better man, a better father, a better husband. It’s actually made me a better son.”