Dan Hust | Democrat
REV. MICHAEL WILLIAMS talked about taking responsibility for one's actions and for a community.
'Ganging up' on crime problem
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO “We all know what’s going on,” said Deborah Mack to a church full of Monticello residents Monday evening.
She’s counting on that knowledge, in fact.
“It’s going to take a community to help solve what’s going on in our community,” she added.
It’s a tall order, but judging by the reaction from those gathered inside the First Baptist Church, gangs, violence and apathy in Monticello will soon be met with groups of people full of caring, determination and honesty.
“We, as people of good will, have got to begin to speak truth to one another,” said Rev. Michael Williams, one of more than a dozen local clergy represented at the meeting. “Young black men are dying all over this country daily, and we’re not organizing to stop it.”
The predominantly black audience listened intently, many agreeing with the pastor that the African-American community must deal with the issues rather than simply laying blame at others’ feet.
Cultural forces were blamed in part.
“We have a mentality in our community that when a young black person is smart and achieving something, there are other kids who through peer pressure are saying they’re acting ‘white,’” he continued, remarking that he didn’t care who he offended by such a remark.
But the lack of good role models and attentive parents also merited concern.
“If there is no male model for these men, there is only so much a woman can do,” observed Josephine Finn, a village justice who has long lamented how many local young men she has had to put behind bars. (Finn’s DREAM Tank project, which engages local youth in community-building activities, served as the catalyst for this meeting.)
Mayor Gordon Jenkins showed up, as well, promising to “declare war on these gangs.”
“Everyone waits too long to get involved,” he remarked. “I promise you that we will stop it.”
He was speaking to a crowd that has the power to do just that. In addition to clergy from churches throughout eastern Sullivan County, the audience featured representatives from the Masons, the NAACP, the Million Man March Community Action Group, the Eastern Star and the Monticello Housing Authority.
But the bulk of attendees were ordinary residents, fed up with the guns, the crimes, the careless attitudes of their neighbors and children.
One after another spoke of their pain, of their passion to fix problems not just talk about them and of the need to make Monticello a haven, not a hell.
And when everyone had spoken, committees were formed to tackle parenting, education, male and female mentoring, drug abuse and housing.
It’s all part of a plan Mack, Finn and Carolyn Massey are calling CPR: Community Progressive Response.
“You’ve got to do something to stop it before it starts,” Finn explained of an effort she calls preventative.
And it’s about to expand far beyond the African-American sphere in Monticello.
“We’re certainly going to ask the whole community to be involved with this,” said Mack, “because it’s not just our problem. It’s everybody’s problem.”
To that end, organizers are planning a Stop the Violence event in August, plus another CPR meeting to discuss the committees’ progress in July.
People of all ages, races and backgrounds are encouraged to join CPR by calling Massey at 794-8080, ext. 123 or Mack at 791-9974.
Just be prepared to turn talk into action, they said.
“We’ve got to do something in a hurry,” concluded First Baptist’s pastor, Rev. James Matthews, “because really, our children are being destroyed.”