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Boston Activist Explains Urban Campaign

September 23, 2005

When the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III organized churches in some of Boston's toughest neighborhoods a decade ago, violent crime plummeted 62 percent and there were no youth homicides in 23 months, he said.

It was an aggressive attack. Church members commandeered the street corners around their parish, identified problem kids and steered them and their families into social programs to address their needs.

The church leaders also forged bonds with city police, civic leaders and the local health and social service network to address neighborhood problems at their roots.

Now Rivers is bringing his National Ten Point Leadership campaign to Hartford. The Harvard-educated Pentecostal minister met with West End church leaders, civic leaders, activists and a representative of the police department Thursday night to see if the concept would work here.

Rivers, whose effort to start Ten Point coalitions in 40 of the country's most distressed inner-city neighborhoods has been featured on CNN and in The New York Times, said Hartford sponsors have their work cut out for them.

"This is not rhetoric, this is not a rally," Rivers said during a break in a strategy meeting at the Connecticut Convention Center. "We're talking about hard work on the ground, measurable outcomes, seven days a week. Identifying and mentoring some of the most at- risk kids, opening churches Monday through Saturday and giving children a sanctuary."

Thursday's meeting was sponsored by the HOPE Community Development Corporation, a West End faith-based civic group which invited Rivers to give the keynote address at a fundraiser honoring the group's first five years of operation. HOPE Community Development recently adopted the Noah Webster Elementary School, and the group offers a food pantry, youth mentoring, a homework center and family support through its the HOPE Family Life Center on Whitney Street.

But before Thursday's party started, church leaders got down to business to talk about what they could do to help the families in their community. Among those attending Thursday's meeting were local activist Cornell Lewis, Deputy Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts and Mayor Eddie A. Perez.

Perez, a former gang member who credits his involvement with Hartford's Sacred Heart Church for helping turn his life around, said the concept has merit.

"There are things government can't do that church folk can do," Perez said. "And there are things human beings can do for each other."

Lewis said having someone of Rivers' stature involved in Hartford was beneficial to the city given his national reputation, his contacts within the Bush administration and his ability to bring money and attention to a cause.

Roberts said the police department is willing to work with local church leaders to address problems in the community and help empower residents to improve their lives. More meetings are planned in the coming months.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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