By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
In a born again “Boston Miracle,” many of the city’s impassioned ministers are trying the wake up the dead after years of backsliding. And not a minute too soon! The stench of youth violence, drugs and alcohol abuse today is numbing.
Responding to a troubling increase in teen violence, black ministers in Boston have initiated an ambitious crusade to enlist, train and engage 1,000 volunteers to labor in the prickly fields of Boston’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods to stem a rising crime wave that threatens to swamp these communities. The homicide rate in December climbed to a ten-year high.
The neighborhood outreach will be the largest of its type since the 1990s when Boston became a national model for combating youth violence and President Clinton implemented a National Anti-gang and Youth Violence Strategy, mirrored after the city’s approach. The new initiative will endeavor to enhance the ministers' street-level role in reducing violence and “revive the community-police partnership that was a key factor in the drastic reduction in the city's homicide rate from 1996 until last year,” the Globe reported last week, noting that police will assist in training volunteers for the Boston TenPoint Coalition program.
“There is a realization that we’ve been asleep at the wheel,” the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown of Dorchester, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Cambridge, told the Globe, referring to the success of earlier efforts by church leaders, community organizations and the police.
While there appears to be some disagreement over whether the TenPoint Coalition—an ecumenical alliance of Christian clergy and lay leaders—deserves the lion share of share of credit for reducing youth violence a decade ago, today’s crisis cannot be addressed without the active participation and mentoring of the clergy. But this assumes strong, adequately funded participation from police, public officials and community leaders. And that presupposes a lot.
The challenge is that troubled teens in these grim days of municipal budget cuts are not a constituency that attracts political investment, but yet one that screams loudly throughout parts of New England for help, from Maine to Cape Cod, from New Bedford to Bridgeport. The youth dilemma is not limited to the inner city; it is a serious and growing problem fueled by a variety of variables, among them: an increase in street gangs or gang-type behavior; the cultural impact of a foul entertainment media; a rise in drug and alcohol abuse; and a suffusing hopelessness and teen depression—a malaise brought on by unrelenting feelings of sadness and despair that inhibit a youth’s ability to function.
To ignore this crisis is to light a fuse on our young. But this is one problem, as ministers well know, that cannot be solved in strictly human terms. Tapping into the source of all hope, the Almighty, is vital. Psalm 40 is clear about it: “He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand.”
Not a bad place for the ministers to start in Boston, the Berkshires, Cape Cod and elsewhere.