- Faith & Family
Ministers whose churches are located in Liberty City recently met with City of Miami Police officers who are charged with keeping the peace in a community where guns are routinely becoming the means of conflict resolution. According to the officers, crime in the infamous “Pork & Beans” [formally known as Liberty Square] has escalated to deadly proportions with drug dealing, gang warfare and other illegal activities becoming the norm. And while the 753-unit Miami-Dade County public housing apartment complex can claim to be the first project for Blacks in the South, it also has become one of the most dangerous.
The police and ministers fear that citizens have grown accustomed to the frequent shoot-outs and gunfire and say that if Blacks want safer neighborhoods, we must do something about it. With that in mind, they have launched a new initiative, spearheaded by the Rev. Billy W.L. Strange, Jr., pastor of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, entitled Call A Pastor [CAP], that they believe will put some ‘teeth’ in current crime reduction efforts. The initiative will link Liberty City congregations with social services provided by a team of certified social workers, led by Leven “Chuck” Wilson, MSW, president and CEO of the Sarasota-based Corporate Professionals Achieving Goals [CPAG].
“We tend to hold a lot of press conferences after shootings but then there’s no real follow up,” Strange said. “The idea is to take some of the benefits from the old community alternative policing program and then to include pastors into the mix. Believe it or not, when we conduct funerals for those killed in many of our shootouts, the perpetrators are often sitting in the audience. Sometimes the shooters call us and say they felt like they had no other alternative. We need to put services in place to help people deal with life though healthier means. We have to show them that there is another way.”
Changing the mindset in Liberty Square
Major Craig E. McQueen, commander for the North District for the City of Miami Police Department, grew up in Liberty City. He’s been patrolling the streets of the same community for most of his career.
“The Pork and Beans is one of the most dangerous places in Miami,” he said. “We already have one park named after an innocent child killed by stray bullets [Sherdavia Jenkins]. If we don’t do something soon, we’re going to find ourselves naming a lot more parks for kids. We need HUD to come in and institute some tougher rules for residents. They have to put teeth in the laws. We may need to fence in Liberty Square so that criminals don’t have such easy access. Often times we find that those who are causing the mayhem don’t even live in the projects — they’re coming from other places, committing crimes and then going back home. Teaming up with ministers is something we’ve done in the past but with services put in place for citizens, I think we can really reduce the crime. People often see the police as their adversary but they view preachers as agents of change and symbols of hope.”
One of the ideas proposed by the group is to periodically hold revivals or to shut down the streets around the projects for rallies and other positive, public events. But more will be needed says Strange. He and his colleagues are now calling on other ministers to join them and to take heir message into the Liberty City streets.
“We know that moving from the safety of our pulpits to the streets can be dangerous but that’s our job,” said Rev. Richard Dunn, pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church, located just outside of Liberty City. “Back in the day when gangs like the John Does were
causing so many problems for our community, it was the Baptist Ministers Council and others who left the safe walls of their churches to confront gangsters with godliness. The church has be prepared to meet the needs of our people. Many of my members live in Liberty City — so does my family. We all should have the right to sleep without fear at night.”
Commander Dana Carr, Model City N.E.T. for the City of Miami Police, says the idea proposed by the ministers is one of the best she’s heard in quite some time.
“Good people should not have to sleep on the floor because they’re afraid of being shot in their own beds,” she said.
Can social services
make a difference?
The three-fold list of services that Wilson has brought to Mt. Calvary over the past year and those that the new CAP program hopes to employ include: divergent services; family strengthening; and restorative living. According to Strange, about 100 members from his congregation have taken advantaged of the counseling services from Wilson and his team of psychologists. At this point the cost has been defrayed by the church or by members themselves. But in the future, the goal will be to secure grants that will pay for the services.
“We are setting the groundwork and revising the infrastructures of our member churches so that we can begin to demonstrate the outreach efforts,” Wilson said. “Many churches have already been doing the work but it’s often based on their words rather than being evidence based. There are many grants that would allow us to link citizens with social services but being a non-profit isn’t enough. You have to have physical evidence that illustrates your mission work. It’s all about accountability — like the United Way or the Red Cross. We’re committed to doing things the right way so that we can get the proper attention, secure more funding, bring more services to the community and effectively deal with this violence epidemic.”
“It hurts me to bury so many young people — I just want to find a way to show them there is another way,” said Rev. Douglas Cook, who has pastored Jordan Grove for close to 50 years. “I just buried a 17-year-old boy and last week I did the funeral for a 21-year-old. One of the boys had the top of his head blown off and had to be buried with a skullcap. Imagine how his family is trying to cope. If we can slow things down, maybe then we can put brakes on this violence and it won’t be able to roll quite as easy.”
For more on the CAP program, call 305-677-3411 or go to www.dare2bstrange.com.
By D. Kevin McNeir