Scott Dawson was born in Ensley, with just over 7,000 residents today. He now leads the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association (SDEA), which hosts conferences and events that regularly draw thousands of students nationwide.
Dawson recently joined "1819 News: The Podcast" to describe his journey from small-town Christian to sharing the gospel to sold-out arenas and working with Kayne West.
"I believe in childhood conversions because I am one," Dawson said. "In my teenage years at Ensley High School, I got passionate about sharing my faith."
He formed a Christian club at school, which led to holding youth Sunday services and, eventually, starting the ministry.
"That's how I started speaking. I never once said I wanted to be an evangelist," Dawson said. "It was just my passion about sharing my faith that led into this."
Wanting to start an evangelistic association of their own, Dawson's dad called the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, asking for guidance. Thus, the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association was formed in 1987 in Birmingham.
"As God would have it, he spoke to Joel Arsvold, who is basically third in command of BGA at that day with one of the largest evangelistic associations in the world, and they helped my dad form SDEA and build the foundation."
For their first conference, Dawson said they were expecting 1,000 people to attend. However, when the time came, only 89 students came. Despite the small turnout, Dawson said, "God showed up."
"And when God showed up, it wasn't some out-of-control chaos; it was just a heaviness of God's holiness in that room on these students, on these 89 students," he said. "And I went, wow, it doesn't really have to be big; it just has to be effective. And so 89 turned into 370, and a long road ahead now in 2024, we're going to have over 17,000 students come to our conference in December and January."
In 2018, Dawson attempted to take another path when he ran for Alabama governor.
"My pastor, Danny Wood, at that time, said, 'One of three things are going to happen. You're either going to win, you're going to lose and do something else, or you're going to lose and come back, and SDEA is going to go to a higher level of influence."
After losing the governor's race, Dawson recommitted to the ministry and prayed for provision to grow SDEA. It wasn't long after dealing with some setbacks in 2019, when he had been turned down by everyone he contacted to try and get a concert together, that he got a call from Kanye West.
"Kanye West and the Sunday Service was the hottest thing happening out there," Dawson said. "Kanye actually calls me a kid from Ensley, sitting in my living room… They charted a 747 from Los Angeles, brought a 160-voice choir. The producer was the producer of the Super Bowl halftime show… We had over 30,000 flowers on the set so they could create the environmental design they wanted. And everyone was like, 'Man, I can't believe you got Kayne.' And I was like, 'No, Kanye actually called us and told us he was coming.'"
Despite canceling over 50 events during the COVID-19 pandemic and a tornado hitting a building recently donated to the ministry, Dawson said he still looks back on his journey and sees the "goodness of God."
"God's doing a full-length movie in your life," he said. "There's going to be some rocky roads, but take a moment, take a breath, and see the goodness of God."
Looking forward, Dawson said SDEA plans to focus on "Unite Alabama," where he will work with faith leaders in all 67 counties to address spiritual and cultural issues in the community.
"Why is government our only option? It should be our last resort. We have so many good nonprofits, communities, churches that if we worked together, we could solve our problems," he said.
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