Violence Reduction Summit Held...
Mayor Street Holds Symposium on Violence Reduction
Organizations and Faith Leaders and Gather to Discuss Community Safety
By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman for Logan News
North Philadelphia – It is rare for churches and other religious institutions to work together at large for the benefit of the community. However, with more than 175 homicides – mostly gun-related – taking place in Philadelphia this year, religious leaders are compelled to work together to make the city safer.
Members of various Christian denominations, Muslims leaders and people of other faiths collaborated with secular groups to discuss ways of reducing inner-city violence Thursday at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Mayor John F. Street's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives hosted the event – formally called the Symposium on Violence Reduction and Community Safety.
"I'm so pleased all of you are here to focus on an issue of importance to the community," Street said to an audience of more than 60 people.
Street, who created MOFI in 2001 to improve government communication with leaders of faith, said faith-based organizations are essential in helping lower the crime rate in the city. "This kind of event has the greatest potential" to make Philadelphia better off, the mayor said.
"It's not just about ending violence, it's about creating love," said Loraine Ballard Morrill of Clear Channel Radio Philadelphia, one of several organizations providing services to support the seven-hour event.
Many reverends, ministers and pastors spoke at the event. Among them was Rev. Marguerite Handy, a special aide to Mayor Street.
In addition to providing daycares for children, gathering places for the elderly and serving meals to the homeless, Handy said, "We must add violence reduction and community safety to the list."
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said arresting people en masse has not improved the quality of life among Philadelphians. Detaining people "hasn't solved anything" and locking people up "is not the only answer," Johnson said.
The commissioner said faith-based organizations are needed to effect a positive social change in Philadelphia, and he acknowledged the importance of fighting a global war on terror as President Bush outlined in his counterterrorism speech Tuesday night.
But Johnson added, "Domestic terrorism is just as bad." The commissioner chastised the fact that some Philadelphians live in fear – refusing to go to certain places at certain times of the day due to safety concerns.
Americans "are not scared to go in Afghanistan … [and] Iraq," but people in the city are afraid to provide police with tips to bring justice to those responsible for crimes, he said.
The symposium also had its fair share of entertainment value with performances from the twin-sister choir Double Praise, poem recitations from members of Poetry in Motion and sparse comic relief from moderator Nick Taliaferro.
"We need some peace, but how can we get that when kids carrying around a piece?" Jamar Washington asked in a poem inspired by the shooting death of 16-year-old Jalil Speaks outside of Strawberry Mansion High School.
John Suggs, a youth pastor who works for the Philadelphia School District in community relations, said Paul G. Vallas, the District's chief executive officer, supports faith-based initiatives aimed at reducing school violence. "Paul Vallas genuinely cares about these young people," said Suggs, 23.
Allyn Burton, a student in the Institute for the Development of African-American Youth program "Don't Fall Down in the Hood," said the mayor's conference was "motivational," though many people in IDAAY's program expressed skepticism and had mixed feelings toward it.
"If you live in the hood and you doing dirt, you not a clean person," Burton said. "Religion motivates you to live a better life."
Some of Burton's peers wrote the symposium off as empty rhetoric and are not expecting any major religious collaborations to make Philadelphia noticeably safer any time soon.
Others felt as if the religious leaders cared more about selling their faith than genuinely wanting to benefit the whole Philadelphia community.
Faith leaders conceded their collaborative efforts will take a long time before significant improvements in violence reduction are made, but they insisted their goals are driven by altruistic philanthropy rather than selfishness.
"Don't Fall Down in the Hood" is a reformative program for youth ages 14-18 who have been arrested with guns, theft and assault violations in the Philadelphia Court System.
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