A coalition of Toledo area religious leaders, educators, and criminal justice experts vowed Tuesday to work together to address gang violence and other issues of juvenile delinquency.
More than 60 community leaders participated in a two-hour discussion at downtown Toledo’s Best Western Premier Grand Plaza Hotel & Convention Center.
The discussion took place during a monthly luncheon for local church pastors.
“Some of you may hear from Congress or some of your local politicians that there isn’t a problem,” Morris Jenkins, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Toledo, told the audience.
“All you have to do is look and you can see that it exists.”
The Rev. James C. Williams III said the goal of the event was to educate and rally local religious leaders to become more involved in addressing juvenile delinquency issues.
The pastor’s group and community leaders will continue to meet and discuss possible strategies on how to address problems, said Pastor Williams of Tabernacle of Faith Church.
Judge Denise Navarre Cubbon of Lucas County Juvenile Court said many reasons exist for youths to become involved in gang activity or other forms of juvenile delinquency.
Many are influenced by TV shows and movies that portray gang lifestyles as glamorous.
“As adults, we know that’s pretend,” she said.
“In real life, people are killed. Kids don’t always realize that.”
After listening to several experts on juvenile delinquency, the participants broke into small discussion groups.
Charlotte Lawson, who oversees youth ministry programs at Second Baptist Church in Holland, said her church’s biggest challenge is getting parents involved in their own children’s lives.
The church at 9757 Frankfort Rd. serves a community in which 78 percent of the households live in poverty, Ms. Lawson said.
Many parents send their children to church every Sunday, but they don’t accompany them, she said.
“Our church is fairly new, but we’re trying to meet the community’s needs,” she said.
“But, some of the children come in with their hair uncombed, or don’t have adequate clothing. It’s a whole other environment,” Ms. Lawson said.
She continued: “The reality is that six days a week, the children are somewhere else. Four hours per week, they are in a positive environment.”
Her concerns were echoed by many pastors and other church leaders.
Mr. Jenkins participated in the same discussion group as Ms. Lawson.
The UT professor acknowledged that many inner-city communities face similar challenges but commended the initial efforts of Second Baptist Church.
“Change takes time,” he told Ms. Lawson.
Mr. Jenkins also suggested church leaders try to find out some of the reasons parents don’t attend church.
Some may feel intimidated because they may fear they don’t have the proper social skills or adequate clothing.
Carter Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Toledo, said another challenge is the need to dispel the myth that drugs, crime, and violence are an “inner-city problem.”
“The reality is that more people come into the inner city to buy drugs,” said Mr. Wilson.
“There are more problems of drug use outside of the city.”
Mr. Jenkins said real solutions won’t occur until communities — including police, educators, parents, and religious leaders — change their mind-sets and start working together.
“We aren’t just saving the black and brown kids, we’re saving all kids,” Mr. Jenkins said.
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.