Councilmen host breakfast for local ministers
on January 8, 2012
What do you get when you put 50 church ministers and two city councilmen in a room together for three hours? A few sermons, frequent choruses of “A-men!” and some lively discussion about how to improve the City of Richmond.
Saturday morning’s second “Annual Informational Community Breakfast,” hosted by councilmen Corky Booze and Nat Bates, created an open forum for local church representatives to voice their concerns about the community. The group discussed issues such as the need for better re-entry services for ex-convicts reentering society and for recreational centers in North Richmond and Parchester Village.
Booze said he invited the ministers, integral leaders in Richmond, to come up with ideas to make positive change in the community. He and Bates also invited the ministers to attend city council meetings, where they hope to initiate some of that change.
“You have to determine the agenda for the politicans,” not the other way around, Bates said.
The gathering of mostly African-American Christian church leaders said grace over a buffet breakfast and were lead in prayer by Pastor Raymond L. Landry of Independent Holiness Church. Other prominent church leaders present included Pastor Henry Washington, the Executive Director of Operation Richmond and Sister Jackie Thompson, who volunteers her time to work with Booze and helped organize the breakfast.
Even Chief of Police Chris Magnus made an appearance at the breakfast, noting that though Richmond still has a ways to go, violent crime has significantly dropped – 14 percent in the last year, and 45 percent since 2006.
During a breakout session to discuss community needs in small groups, one table of ministers spoke passionately about the difficulties facing Richmond’s young people.
“Our young people cannot go out to some parts of the city,” Pastor Landry said, pausing with a marker midair above the poster-sized Post-it Note his group was filling out.
“They can’t go to Nicoll Park without having some trouble … They have nowhere to go.”
Pastor Charles Jackson of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist agreed, but wondered why it had to be this way.
“Why is Richmond divided?” he asked.
“It goes back 20-something years,” replied Landry. “The generation out there now, they don’t know what they’re fighting about. Every time they try to touch it, they drop another life. There’s no easy answer.”
A thoughtful silence ensued, broken only by a few sounds of agreement.
“I’m from North Richmond. If you’ve got the North Richmond brand, you’ve been branded for life,” Rev. George Brown of Totally Led Ministries said.
“We’ve got all these kids of the same color killing each other, and they don’t know what they’re fighting about,” Jackson said, shaking his head.
Landry said that as a social worker, he sees social activist groups coming in and trying to solve Richmond’s problems. “Richmond’s problems are so unique. They discover that [what works elsewhere] doesn’t work in Richmond,” he said.
“They get the money, though,” said Jackson.
At the conclusion of the breakout session, Booze gathered the ministers back together for an open forum, during which specific concerns were raised. Some speakers asked for better lighting in North Richmond; others asked for new programs to help keep kids off the street. One speaker suggested opening up churches for day care and computer training during the week. Brown and Landry requested gyms in Parchester Village and North Richmond, to provide a safe communal space for Richmond youth.
The church leaders responded positively to most of the suggestions made during the forum, but the group did not yet make definitive plans to pursue any of the suggestions.
“You have the keys to the city council door through Councilman Bates and myself,” Booze told the group, requesting that they work with city council to make change happen.
As far as new gyms for North Richmond and Parchester Village, Bates said that it would first be essential to get federal funding, but that it wasn’t likely to happen with the current council.
“Now we’ve got a green party mayor who doesn’t have any contact whatsoever with the Feinstein and Obama administrations,” Bates said.
Richmond officials need contacts in Washington to get the federal funds to build gyms, he added.
At the end of the forum, Booze voiced his concern about the placement of funds in certain city programs – in particular, about the $2 million budget for the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an issue that he and other city council members have passionately debated before.
Booze thinks that the money used to fund ONS would be better spent elsewhere, such as for the re-entry program, which counsels ex-convicts as they reintegrate into society after leaving prison.
“We need to make that organization more transparent. I do not like the way the city is using the funds,” Booze said. “People of color need re-entry like they need a drink of water…this is where the $2 million should go.”
Booze said his primary purpose for holding the forum was to let community members voice their concerns. He plans to gather all of the ideas from the forum, categorize and present them at a meeting next quarter for the church leaders, who will then vote for what the first plan of action should be.
“I want to see a change,” said Booze. “I don’t want to sit on that council for four years and not see a change.”
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