Faith community to collect money to help stop violence

Group will take up offerings every fifth weekend for local operations working with children

May 27, 2010|By Brent Jones, The Baltimore Sun

Although this year's homicide totals continue to be on a slower pace a year ago, Earl El-Amin said he and his faith-based brethren have grown tired of the violence.

"We're called to be keepers of peace," said El-Amin, of the Muslim's Community Central of Baltimore and a member of Baltimore's Interfaith Coalition. "That is essentially our mission. When you study history, all the great sages that came, they came to establish peace in environments that were out of sync."

El-Amin and about 50 other religious leaders, along with representatives from the city state's attorney office, announced an anti-violence initiative Thursday that will use money collected from religious services to fund activities for children.

Organizers of the program, called "Fifth Sunday: Violence to Virtue," are asking the more than 1,200 churches, mosques and synagogues in Baltimore to take up an offering every fifth weekend and donate the money to a local nonprofit, which in turn would disburse the funds to individuals or organizations that work with kids.

It is the first major program under the newly organized Baltimore Interfaith Coalition, which formed last spring after several religious leaders met with police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who called upon the faith-based community to help curb violence.

"We've challenged ourselves to break down barriers among ourselves and work for the greater good of the people in Baltimore," said BIC co-chairman Bishop Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church in Northeast Baltimore. "This is a means of funding small operations that may not have [nonprofit] status but are doing great things in our community — like people who work with marching bands, people who do mentoring on the weekends — something so they have means of getting funding to help advance their work."

The announcement, made at New Huntington Baptist Church in East Baltimore, is about a block away from where a 22-year-old man was fatally shot after a fight erupted in a restaurant in April. Two days before that incident, a 72-year-old man was fatally shot at a carryout restaurant in Waverly.

"We cannot prevent the death of every single human being in Baltimore, but we can do better," said Rabbi Steven M. Fink of Temple Oheb Shalom. "We hope through our efforts, many single lives will be saved here in Baltimore this summer and this year."

The money will be distributed through the Parks and People Foundation. The first collection is expected to take place Sunday, Miles said, and dozens of places of worship are already on board.

Peggy Mainor, representing the city state's attorney office, said the office will donate about $25,000 since it is unable to take up an offering, and will ask other agencies to do the same.

Mainor called the program, "the first of its kind in the nation."

As of Thursday, 71 people have been killed in Baltimore, down 21 percent from 2009.

"We call on the community to oppose what is a culture of violence in Baltimore," said the Very Rev. Hal Hayak, of the Episcopal Diocese of Baltimore. "No culture can be sustained without our participation of allowing it at least by being indifferent. We want to change to a culture of reconciliation and respect."

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