When Latula Love, of the Hazelwood African-American Forum, lost his son, grandson, granddaughter and two nephews to street violence, he said there was no one to turn to. Now he wants to make sure there is.
“When I needed help, there was none,” he said. “Violence not only affects families, it affects generations of families, and it needs to stop.”
|NEW DIRECTION—As Treasurer Vanessa Fancher looks on, Secretary Khalid Raheem announces the formation of the Community Coalition for Violence Prevention and Intervention. (Photo by Gail Manker)
Over the last few months, Love and members of a number of community groups have been meeting to find a new model to combat Black-on-Black violence. The first step in that effort came this week when they announced the formation of a new coalition to do just that on a county-wide basis.
The Community Coalition for Violence Prevention & Intervention, currently boasting 10 organizations and members from across Allegheny County, met with the New Pittsburgh Courier at Monumental Baptist Church in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The co-chairs are Jimmara Scott and Mike Wilson, with community activist Khalid Raheem serving as secretary.
Its point of focus is that the solutions to the violence erupting in the Black communities these groups represent will have to come from the communities themselves.
“The community has to own this and take responsibility,” said Raheem. “We have to address this in a systematic way. We all bring different skill sets to this model. We will take advantage of them. But we have to do it in a coordinated and responsible manner. Due to duplicate efforts, we haven’t been as effective as we might be.”
The idea behind the coalition is that it will be able to address violence and related issues—transient populations resulting from public housing and school closures, broken families, unemployment, lack of training opportunities, etc.—in any community with larger numbers of people from across the county.
Richard Garland, now a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, has, like Raheem, worked to stem street violence in Pittsburgh for nearly 20 years. He plans to act as a mentor for kids in the street.
“The coalition is already good for me because it made me realize a lot of things I didn’t do running One Vision One Life,” Garland said. “One was not joining other groups in the fight, probably because I couldn’t see what they brought to the table.”
Michael Wilson, of the Glenn Hazel RMC and coalition co-chair, echoed Raheem.
“We’re not waiting for Superman to come and save us. We need to address our issues,” he said. “While it’s true it takes a village to raise a child, a village can destroy a child. If we ignore the violence, that gives it strength. So building this coalition is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Raheem said the coalition has already begun building reciprocal support relationships with community organizations in communities such as Clairton, Homestead, Wilkinsburg and McKeesport, he hopes to expand the model to areas such as Beaver and Westmoreland Counties.
The city of Pittsburgh, though, will also help where possible, said Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime Coordinator Jay Gilmer.
“We support any effort to reduce violence,” he said.
And while creating the cooperative group relationships is paramount, individuals are encouraged to join. Indeed, three such individuals attended the meeting. Freddy Jones, who recently earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh, wants to extend his youth outreach work
Three Lions Contracting owner Marvin Williams and his wife, Roxanne, said they want to help any way they can. Williams said he wants to give back.
He told the group he was a teen gangbanger back in the mid-1990s when the Law gang, the Crips and the Bloods waged a virtual open war in the East End. Garland, Raheem and Monumental Pastor Rev. Thomas Smith were all part of the efforts to quell that violence.
“If I hadn’t met you (Garland), I probably wouldn’t be here,” Williams said. “You got me into Youthbuild. I learned a trade, and through that program I met guys from rival neighborhoods and we broke through those barriers. I’m a contractor now.”
Reverend Smith said rebuilding the broken family structure in Black neighborhoods is critical and will be one of the areas he focuses on.
“It’s gotten to where we can’t even have church-sponsored youth recreational activities without hiring security,” he said. “These young men are not getting the support to build families, and its families that rebuild a community.”
Reverend Smith, who is also tasked with bringing churches together in this effort, said several pastors are already involved in the coalition.
“It’s bigger than any one of us,” he said. “I think we are well position to address the psychological trauma, not only from the violence, but from police action as well. But our roles will be defined and refined through community dialog.”
Raheem said the next step is to put together a concise action plan, driven by analyses of the various communities’ needs. That process will formally begin at their next meeting, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at Monumental Baptist Church, in the Hill District..
“We’re not going to have some 1,500-page thing. This will be simple and quantifiable,” he said. “Not only do others need to be able to measure our success, but we need to be able to see what’s working, and if something needs to be modified, we can do that.”
The coalition will also be supporting an anti-violence rally in Hazelwood Oct. 25, organized by coalition members PoorLaw, the African-American Forum and Glenn Hazel RMC.
The coalition can be reached via its Facebook page or by phone at 412-606-0059.