Churches, community teaming up to fight gang problem
By Matt Barbour, Weekend Anchor/Reporter - bio | email
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- A local non-profit is bringing Chattanooga churches together to help fight the city's gang problem. 'Hope for the Inner City' is hosting a two-day conference, connecting churches and community members with the goal of bringing real change to the streets.
Organizers with Hope for the Inner City say community churches are the city's greatest untapped resource.
They believe the church can play a major role in making Chattanooga streets safer.
"I call it a plague. This gang plague is significant," says Paul Green, Executive Director for Hope for the Inner City.
Green says he receives constant feedback from those who deal with gang violence first-hand.
"They're afraid of the violence. They feel like, 'Is there a future for my children?'"
He and others are leading the way, getting nearly 40 church congregations involved in a two-day Urban Outreach Conference to take on the problem.
"That sounds daunting. We think, 'Oh, we can't do that.' But mentorship. Inviting them to church. Having them over to eat. Simple things," says Green.
Green knows churches can make the difference.
It was more than 20 years ago a church in Los Angeles got him out of crime-ridden Compton.
"And because of them, I'm here. I would have been a totally different person if it wasn't for the local church," he says
Participants focus on everything from tackling community health issues to creating sustained employment.
"The first thing we have to do is change our view and recognize that we have to believe that everyone is created in the image of God," says Jonathan Brooks.
Brooks pastors a church in the Chicago district of Englewood and says his church-based gang prevention efforts have worked.
"Although Chicago's murder rate has increased by 38 percent this year, in Englewood, our district has gone down 40 percent."
He wants Chattanooga church congregations to know, with a cohesive plan, they can be the change they want to see in the community.
"I think the church is the untapped resource. We're not only about making members and a proselytizing. But we are also about genuine love and I believe that's what God's about and that's what the church is about," he says.
"We love our city. We love Chattanooga. I love Chattanooga. And we want our city to be better," says Green.
As a part of the conference, attendees will hear from the headline speaker, Dr. John M. Perkins.
Perkins is a nationally known expert in urban poverty and community development.