One Hundred Churches in One Hundred Cities

January 21, 1994|By MIKE McMANUS

Washington -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson's initiative to fight inner-city ''black on black'' crime is as courageous as it is sweeping.

''We will convene judges, ministers and social workers. We will ,, start with 100 churches in 100 cities, each of whom will mentor 10 youth each -- first time, nonviolent offenders who will be given an alternative to incarceration. That will reach 100,000 youth!''

If that goal can be achieved, mobilizing 10,000 inner-city black churches to take a huge slice of the most alienated African-American youth and transform them into productive citizens -- those churches will earn the gratitude of the entire nation.

It would not be the first time that the most stable and enduring institutions of the black community galvanized social change. The civil-rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s was born in the black church. It was the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Andrew Young, and yes, the Rev. Jesse Jackson who articulated a vision that inspired whites as well as blacks to extend legal equal opportunity to black people.

''Crime is the number one civil-rights issue in our community,'' Mr. Jackson said at his Rainbow Coalition Summit on Violence this month. In Chicago a few weeks ago, he was chillingly eloquent before an all-black audience: ''There is nothing more painful to me at this stage of my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then [I] look around and see someone who is white and feel relieved.''

Mr. Jackson had other unexpected things to say: ''This killing is not based upon poverty; it is based upon greed and violence and guns.'' He called the violence a product of ''spiritual surrender, ethical collapse and degenerative self-hatred.

''We've got the power right now to stop killing each other. . . . There is a code of silence, based upon fear. Our silence is a sanctuary for killers and drug dealers. There must be a market revolt. The victim has to rise up.''

The victim is rising up. A year ago, only 8 percent of blacks polled cited crime as the top problem. Now 28 percent do. Blacks are only 12 percent of the U.S. population, but account for half of the people murdered. Homicide is the leading cause of death among young black males; their killers are almost all blacks.

Mr. Jackson proposed ''mentoring programs'' for jail inmates. He called for black universities to ''take the lead to help our youth living in death valley find marketable skills.''

How realistic is the vision of churches mentoring offenders? Pastor Wendell Anthony, of Fellowship Chapel in Detroit, talks of involving 100 to 200 churches of the 2,000 in Detroit to build on a program his church is already operating.

''One of the greatest self-help institutions is the African-American church,'' he says. ''We are excited about the possibility of providing an alternative to imprisonment for first-time, non-violent offenders. We already have an active cadre of 200 young boys and 200 girls aged 6 to 18. We take enrollment once in March and in September. We teach standards and values, community responsibility and spirituality.''

Every Saturday, 20 male mentors meet boys in the Isuthu Institute -- the name means ''coming into manhood'' in the Xhosa tribe of South Africa.

Chris Carswell, a Ford engineer who donates 15 to 25 hours a week to the group, calls himself ''a product of the Isuthu Institute.'' He started attending as a boy in 1977. ''We teach young men to be men -- mentally, spiritually, physically, culturally and morally through programming, community service and social outings.''

A similar ''Intonjane Institute'' for girls heard Kym Worthy, an assistant Wayne County prosecutor, tell them, ''If I can become a lawyer, you can too.''

The Fellowship Chapel's mentoring has been a model for other churches. But 60 percent of the boys they work with are under age 13. It will be a much more difficult task to mentor those referred by courts. Churches who want to help should call the Rainbow Coalition at 202-728-1180.

Mike McManus writes a column on ethics and religion.

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