Rashad Byrdsong doesn’t like to talk about how long he has been trying to combat street violence, because he’s been at it for more than a decade. But following the shooting that took place outside an August 14 midget football game in Homewood, the founder of the Community Empowerment Association has redoubled his efforts and is working to create what he calls a Peace Alliance Network.

COMMUNITY RESOLVE—From left: Reggie Roberts of B-PEP, former McKeesport Mayor Austin Davis, CEA program coordinator Lee Davis and McKeesport Councilwoman V. Fawn Walker, and CEA founder Rashad Byrdsong, right, implores McKeesport residents to stop the violence following a June triple homicide.

“We’ve been at this for years, there have been vigils and marches, yet the violence is still here,” he said. “Now we are trying to develop a network of community residents who can come at this issue with some kind of impact.”

But Byrdsong is quick to note that while the community bears much responsibility for rebuilding itself, many are unprepared to do so, and will need assistance. Thus his network will require assistance from community groups, churches, nonprofits, public health systems, schools and all other stakeholders in the Black community.

To that end, Byrdsong has been conducting a series of community meetings in various neighborhoods in and around the city to spur involvement and action.

Christine Mays Walker of South Park attended the October meeting at New Birth International Ministries in Braddock and said she and church Pastor Fred Dukes are working to engage more people.

“I think he has the right idea in getting the community educated, ultimately getting them to form new groups,” she said. “We’re trying to get more churches involved. We have to include our young adults. We need to engage them and meet people where they are.”

Walker and Dukes have scheduled a Nov. 5 meeting at the church to work out the next steps and get to work.

“This is the long-term approach because there are a lot of stressors on the community that need to be addressed in order to address the violence,” Byrdsong said.

Byrdsong calls his model for addressing violence a modified version of an infectious disease model. Violence in the Black community is an epidemic—treat it like one. He has a three-pronged plan for reducing violence that concentrates on prevention, rehabilitation and development.

Among other components, his prevention component would include truancy and dropout intervention, as well as expanded school programs and afterschool supervision. He also proposes community curfew centers as safe havens for at-risk youth.

The rehabilitation piece is aimed at victims and offenders as well as their families, which includes additional social service support as well as street outreach and rapid response to shootings.

On the development side Byrdsong’s model calls for addressing and improving quality of life issues. These include community based clean up and management of currently abandoned buildings, community business investment, and expansion of sports music and arts programs.

Byrdsong’s approach is not a short-term initiative that will deliver an immediate effect as the Pittsburgh Initiative Against Crime program is designed to do. Byrdsong disagrees with the approach of a massive police response to gang shootings that round up everyone even remotely related to a given incident.

“I don’t think it is working. You need to look at it as a public health issue,” he said. “Poverty, joblessness, drugs, dropouts, these are all conditions that like with disease, make a community susceptible to violence.”

While he wants to get police service providers, churches and community groups working on these problems in a coordinated fashion, in the immediate term, he is focusing on setting up a series of town hall-style meetings to get residents of various Black neighborhoods and communities together as the initial structure of this network. He has already conducted four meetings including ones in Clairton and Braddock. The next is meeting scheduled for Nov. 4, at 6 p.m. at the CEA Cultural Center, 7143 Fleury Way in Homewood.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsbsurghcourier.com)

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