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by Jack Calhoun
OJJDP's 16 Community-Based Violence Prevention (CBVP) sites address some of the most volatile and dangerous situations in some of the most turbulent and mistrusting areas of their respective cities. Violence Interrupters mediate disputes, stand between hostile individuals or groups, and—often from hospital bedsides—attempt to head off retaliation. Case managers try to link victims and victimizers to school, to job opportunities, and to positive adults, and often work to help stabilize families. CBVP leaders form essential partnerships with law enforcement, probation officers, child welfare, schools, and local service organizations. Most street staff are available 24/7. Whether named community norms change, community mobilization, or community health, each CBVP site, in addition to working with people, aims to improve the community context in which youths who are at greatest risk live.

Street work, program administration, and community norms: It is a tall order, and uncertainty abounds. A young person from a rough neighborhood, enrolled in a GED program or as an apprentice, might be shot and killed on the way home, while a tough teen returning from a detention center might celebrate receiving his or her community college degree. CB work plays out in zip codes characterized by high poverty, domestic violence and child abuse, low school or job connection, and low expectations. Loss and hope are constant companions. Yet, CBVP efforts persist, changing lives and even entire neighborhoods.

For this to work well, allies—especially from the faith community—are needed. Faith-based entities, for the most part, are not seen as outside service providers or responders. They are in the community, know the community, and know intimately what children, youth, and families face as residents. All too often they deal directly with grief and trauma. Many of those sitting in pews have witnessed violence, some have daughters and sons in jail, and some have lost loved ones. The faith community starts not with program or policy but with the people of the neighborhood.

"They know the streets," said Boston (Mass.) Police Commissioner William Evans about the faith-based community. "They know the gangs. They know the kids."

Peter Kim, program manager in Oakland, Calif., intends for more robust relationships with the faith community—a more "direct service–oriented" approach. Kim views houses of worship as resources for "mentorship, food and shelter, employment opportunities, and trauma-informed healing."

For Amy Ellenbogen, director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center, the faith community serves as an essential partner. Manifesting her full commitment to involve faith leaders, Ellenbogen has hired a "clergy consultant"—a liaison to the faith community who hosts breakfasts and education sessions on topics such as the link between domestic and gun violence and trauma-informed services. The liaison pays particular attention to the pain clergy witness on a daily basis, and their need for healing. Ellenbogen relies on the clergy as an essential and trusted communication vehicle. She can quickly disseminate information about police or city concerns through the clergy network, which in turn reaches those most affected. Together with the faith community, Ellenbogen has developed a clear protocol in response to a shooting. That protocol combines a healing/grief strategy with the development of a "community norm," where violence is viewed as unacceptable, abnormal.

Boston has redoubled its antiviolence efforts in recent years, partnering with the faith community since the early 1990s. Jason Whyte, program manager for the Boston Police Department, cites numerous examples of faith-based violence prevention work. The faith community helps establish relationships with at-risk kids. Churches in the Black Ministerial Alliance in Mattapan (under contract with Action for Boston Community Development) serve as sites for the arts, recreation, and employment. Police team up with kids to run Youth Café Friday Nights, which is improving youth–police dialogue and working to keep young people safe. The iconic Operation Night Light connects faith leaders with police and/or probation officers to visit the homes of known offenders. These visits show offenders the community cares and is willing to assist, but that it will not tolerate future misbehavior.

Clergy and congregations have mentored, tutored, and fed and clothed the hungry. They have also marched, served on local governing boards, and testified before city councils and state legislatures. The relational and the prophetic are intimately linked, especially for the African American community, where the church has served both as a place of restoration and a place to plan community improvements.

"We cannot do our work without the faith community," proclaimed Paul Callanan, director of the Gang Reduction Initiative of Denver. His work with faith leaders happens in three areas: the streets, relational ministries, and responses to grief and loss; programs, such as taking kids on excursions to the mountains, hosting "Say No to Violence" basketball tournaments, and prayer walks in volatile neighborhoods; and finally, the structural—the clergy as part of his governing body. Next up for Callanan: the church as a "safe haven after [a] shooting." Right now, he said, those who have been victimized by a shooting must go all over the city to get help from different sources. Callanan envisions putting those services (Red Cross aid, trauma treatment, food, etc.) in one central, convenient, and trusted place.

Most faith communities subscribe to distinct but complementary traditions: virtuous living, a relationship with God, righteousness. The other, equally strong, is the call of the prophets to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and speak out against inequities—in short, social justice. It is not just prayer and the need for personal forgiveness that drives a member of the faith community, but also the need for action. Abraham Heschel, author of Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity and one of the 20th century's most brilliant theologians, felt politics and theology were inextricably linked. After the civil rights march in Selma, Ala., he said, "I felt my legs were praying."