Putting faith in `policeman called love'

Churches plan havens to fight youth violence

June 20, 2000|By J. Kimball C. Payne | J. Kimball C. Payne,SUN STAFF

In response to what organizers call a "youth violence plague," city church leaders invited area churches and recreation centers yesterday to join them in providing a safe hangout for youths on some Friday nights this summer. Uniting churches citywide, "Kidz Nite Inn" offers a way for city youths to spend evenings off the streets and out of harm's way during the summer, organizers said in announcing the initiative at Koinonia Baptist Church in East Baltimore.

"What we are doing is giving kids the opportunity to make their own decisions. They haven't had alternatives in the past," said Selwyn Ray, a community organizer for Safe and Sound. "This program will allow them to get off the streets and away from temptations and danger."

Open to children ages 8 to 18, Kidz Nite will kick off June 30 at more than 20 sites around the city and will run from 6 p.m. to midnight. The program will take place on a monthly basis with organizers tentatively scheduling three events through August.

Church leaders described the undertaking as "monumental" because it brings together such groups as Mission Baltimore, Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Clergy United for Renewal in East-Baltimore, Safe and Sound, Pastors in Unity for Park Heights and numerous others.

Forgoing interclerical rivalries, the groups formed the program to "send one central message: that God loves kids," said the Rev. Kevia Elliott, president of Mission Baltimore.

"We are becoming one church," said the Rev. Dr. Eleanor Bryant of the Agape Fellowship Miracle Church in Northwest Baltimore.

More than 20 churches, city Police Athletic League centers and the Department of Recreation and Parks are offering space, but organizers are not satisfied. "We are hoping for upwards of 50 churches," Elliott said.

Organizers also hope Mayor Martin O'Malley will offer his support "and declare June 30 `Kidz Nite Inn,'" Elliott said.

Spokesman Tony White said the mayor has not received the groups' proposal, so he could not comment.

Perhaps the most appealing feature of the program is its positive focus, the ministers said. "We don't see the children on the corner as demons," the Rev. Willie Armstrong said. "We want to reach out to them with love."

Instead of joining the "war on crime," church officials are looking to clean up their community with the help of "a greater policeman," said the Rev. Johnny Golden, CURE president. "A policeman called love."

Worried about the number of bystanders injured on city streets, Elliott, said, "bullets have no name."

Between 1996 and 1998, 440 people under age 25, including 112 youths under age 18, were slain in the city, according to police statistics. The ministers groups hope to fight the problem.

"We can ill afford to turn our backs on our sons and daughters," Golden said. "We are all products of the same streets, the same culture, the same problems. Enough is enough. The killing must stop."

For information, contact Mission Baltimore at Koinonia Baptist Church (410) 235-1037.

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