By James Wright, Special to the AFROjwright@afro.com

A group of religious leaders in Ward 8 want to be proactive in putting a stop to violence in the neighborhood.

On June 9, the Ward 8 Clergy and Faith Leaders held their monthly breakfast meeting at Assumption Church DC, on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. Southeast, The Rev. Donald Isaac, one of the District of Columbia’s most politically active pastors, said it is time for the clergy to step up and speak out on the rising number of homicides in the ward.

Faith leaders are focusing on getting young people into programs for the summer in an effort to give them something positive to do. (Courtesy Photo)

“The church can have a positive impact,” Isaac said to the 50 people at the meeting. “These kids are responding to the violence they have seen and experiencing. Hurting people hurt people.”

The Ward 8 Clergy are talking about the rising homicide rate because schools will soon close for the summer. D.C. Metropolitan Police Department statistics show that as of June 8, there were 66 homicides in the city, as opposed to 44 at this point last year. However, all other crime indicators, such as rape, robbery etc., are down from last year.

Lashonia Thompson-El works for the Office of the District of Columbia Attorney General. She told the gathering about her 18-year incarceration and coming back to the District and getting involved in anti-violence efforts. “I work with the Attorney General CURE program that focuses on fighting crime using a public health approach,” Thompson-El said. “We are planning to attack violence using technical assistance for those people and organizations that need it and use data-driven materials.”

Thompson-El said the approach is similar to fighting the HIV-AIDS epidemic that was rampant in some District neighborhoods in the late 1980s and 1990s. The traditional response to fighting youth violence has been programs, whether government-sponsored or by non-profits. There are calls in Ward 8 for faith-based organizations and places of worship to take a more proactive approach.

“We have to come up with our own programs, each church,” Isaac said. “And we cannot allow the government to dictate to us what we do.”

One of the most well-known non-governmental summer youth programs is the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative (FSSC) “Safe Summer” initiative. Perry Moon is the executive director of FSFSC and is looking forward to the upcoming session.

“We will have our kickoff on June 29,” Moon said. “As government resources are dwindling, communities need to step up.”

The FSFSC “Safe Summer” is a series of educational, cultural, and recreational activities for young people during the week and sometimes on the weekends. The activities are designed to keep young people engaged and off the streets.

“We will have a Friday program where people from the community can come in and talk about life skills and their perspectives on life,” Moon said. “I encourage you to participate. People can prosper if they know there is a community that surrounds them.”

Ambrose Lane, an independent candidate for the D.C. Council in the Nov. 6 general election, said that discussions on fighting violence must be prevention-oriented. Isaac noted that the D.C. Council passed the city’s $14.5 billion budget recently and a small amount of that money was earmarked for anti-violence efforts.

He said that must change. “The pastors in this ward need to organize so that we can get more funds from the budget,” he said.