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Iowa’s black religious leaders unite against youth violence
A summer marred by youth violence has prompted black religious leaders in Iowa to unite across denominations for a â€œStop the Violenceâ€ campaign.
â€œAlmost every other week you hear about some shooting that happened,â€ said Abraham Funchess, division administrator for the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans.
The Iowa State Baptist Convention, which represents about 8,000 congregants, is working with the commission on a â€œ10 Point Plan for the 21st Centuryâ€ based on a similar program in Boston. Organizers also hope members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Church of God and Christ will join in the efforts. Several other entities, including Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Department of Education and Wells Fargo also have agreed to assist, he said.
The plan will take place in the 10 target cities the commission is working in as part of its Ongoing-Covenant with Black Iowa, which is a plan to improve the lives of blacks in Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Davenport, Burlington, Ft. Madison, Iowa City, Sioux City and Des Moines.
â€œItâ€™s pulling in our most critical institution â€“ the church,â€ Funchess said.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, youth crime and gang activity is most prevalent during the summer when many youth are unsupervised. According to a summer 2008 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the arrests of juveniles under the age of 18 for murder rose 3.4% in 2006 compared with 2005, according to 2008 FBI statistics. The report also found that people under the age of 25 accounted for 52% of those arrested for murder and 64.8% of those arrested for robbery in 2006. A spike also was noted in gang activity, the report found.
The 10 point plan will address a variety of issues, including:
Â· A cultural shift to help reduce youth violence, both physically and verbally within the black community by sparking conversation, introspection and reflection on the thoughts and actions that hold blacks back as a people, individually and collectively.
Â· Churches will develop a curriculum regarding black and Latino history with an emphasis on the struggles of women of color.
Â· Address the trauma as a physical and emotional reality on the lives of young people and their families as a direct result of violence.
Â· Build meaningful relationships with high-risk youth.
Â· Focus on connecting and rebuilding the lives of youth who have been incarcerated and stigmatized by mainstream society.
Â· Provide youth advocacy and one-one-one mentoring for high-risk youth.
Â· Provide gang mediation and intervention for high-risk youth with the goal of establishing cease-fires and building the foundation for active peace.
Â· Establish accountable, community-based economic development projects with an emphasis on revenue generation and demystifying the accumulation and power of money through financial literacy.
Â· Building partnerships with the social/secular institutions, with suburban and downtown communities of faith to help provide spiritual, human and material support.
Â· Provide ongoing training for individual churches along with a systematic program in leadership development to create, maintain, and sustain community mobilization.
The Boston 10 Point plan arose after gang violence occurred inside a church. A similar problem occurred recently at a funeral held in Davenport at the church of Iowa State Baptist Convention President Rev. Rogers Kirk, Funchess said. Kirk was unavailable for comment.
The plan will feature a national curriculum, â€œCommunity Works: Smart Teens make Safer Communities,â€ which is part of the National Crime and Prevention Council. Itâ€™s an 11-week program for youth to help them understand how violence affects them and culminates in a community project, Funchess said.
â€œThe idea is that this is something that will never die,â€ Funchess said. â€œIt will be sustaining.â€
Funchess said physical violence isnâ€™t the only type of violence being addressed by the 10 point plan. He said the plan also addresses the â€œdisproportionalityâ€ that affects black youth in nearly every aspect of their lives as Iowans.
A task force organized by Gov. Chet Culver is trying to address problems within the juvenile justice system, including the disproportionate number of blacks who are detained in juvenile detention facilities. A disproportionate number of blacks are imprisoned in Iowa and suspended and expelled from schools across the state, according to state criminal justice and education data.
Funchess recently told the task force that â€œaccountability begins at home, and the church of all institutions can help create these values.â€
According to the CDCâ€™s 2008 report, homicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, with 82 percent of them dying because of a firearm.
â€œThis stuff is happening so much that we get desensitized,â€ Funchess said. â€œBut it does require our intervention.â€