14 February 2006

Sometimes, It Causes Me To Tremble

I remember Boston in the early 90s. I remember both of my parents didn't like to go downtown, though they made trips to the Aquarium and Science Museum for my benefit. Numerous initiatives and programs enacted by City Hall are often credited with making a difference in the pervasive violence of that era, as well they should be. City Hall, however, was not alone in that fight. Community leaders, often church leaders, also took a stand in stemming that tide, sometimes at far greater personal risk than elected officials.

In fact, the success of that religious/community movement was one of the reasons that I decided to enroll in divinity school this fall. I had hoped to participate in a faith-based, community-building program, perhaps even create or lead one. Though I question whether or not I am personally prepared to pursue such an endeavor --- or posses the necessary fortitude for it --- I am certain that religious communities and their leaders must continue, indeed strengthen, their community involvement or outreach, if those communities are to remain vibrant --- in some cases to exist at all.

Thus I found myself inconsolable when I read in this morning's Globe about the the rift between several of those religious leaders.

Boston finds itself in a predicament (to understate the situation) that could return the city to the climate of fear that many residents seemed reconciled to fifteen years ago. Bostonians, especially those in the areas most affected by the violence, need these leaders to put aside their differences and once more work together to achieve the goals they worked so fervently toward in the past. "Clergy wars" are the last thing that we need right now. There are gang wars, class wars, and, yes, race wars being waged on our streets. While the leaders in question may have profound differences between them, those differences are, in the final analysis, petty in comparison to the violence, intimidation and oppression to be found on the streets of Boston --- streets on which the people they profess to lead walk in fear daily.

I do not intend this to be some blanket admonishment of these men. They have performed a great service to their communities and to the city of Boston as a whole. They continue to do great work on their own. This summer, Rev. Wall, at great risk, brought attention to the war zone that was/is Lyndhurst St. Rev. Hammond continues to generate funds for non-profit institutions for the youth, who are presented with stark choices --- or seemingly no choice at all. Rev. Rivers keeps promoting the ten-step program that he initiated thirteen years ago, with the assistance of the previous two pastors. For their actions and dedication, these men, and several dozen other religious leaders of several faiths, ought to be applauded.

But it is past time that they understand that they cannot solve the problems in our communities by themselves. In 1992, Rev.'s Wall, Hammond and Rivers introduced Ten Point Program. Here is how the Globe describes it:
It began, Wall said, when he, Rivers, and Hammond met in the basement of his Hyde Park home in 1992, after gang violence disrupted the funeral of a Boston youth at Morning Star Baptist Church, and gave birth to the Ten Point program.

Rivers had been talking for days about 10 steps black churches could take to improve the situation, steps Rivers had worked out with a young Dorchester drug dealer who subsequently overdosed. But Rivers was not being specific.

''Eugene, you keep talking about these 10 points," the calm, deliberate Hammond finally said. ''Tell them to us, one at a time."

Hammond entered the points on Wall's computer, and the three pastors polished the language, which became an agenda for the Ten Point Coalition.

The centerpiece was collaboration with law enforcement and social services that offered help to troubled and violent youth and promised harsh punishment if they did not change their ways.

That became the central idea of Operation Ceasefire, which was credited locally and nationally with producing a dramatic reduction in youth violence. A principal goal of current efforts to reinvigorate the Boston Ten Point Coalition is to restore that carrot-and-stick approach.

When the approach began to bear fruit in the 1990s, Wall said in his office at Dorchester Temple Baptist Church, in Codman Square, ''all of a sudden people [outside the coalition] were saying, 'Something worked!' and a lot of attention, a lot of money came in. . . . When the money started to come in, when the media began choosing who to highlight, those relationships began to break."
We must return to these days of shared conviction and coalition. Violence --- and the resultant fear of violence in the rest of the community --- is an affliction that cannot be healed by the work of an individual. It takes a coalition of sincere, dedicated and devoted parties to affect change.

Our leaders, elected and called, must recognize the immensity of their challenge and work with one another and the communities they lead and serve. And we, as members of the community must also take up service in the hopes that each of us may be, perhaps in some obscure way, a servant of progress and an obstacle to violence. To do otherwise would be to deny perhaps our faith and surely our humanity.

UPDATE: As usual, I have more. Here are the Ten Points that got the program started.


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