Policing

Faith and community leaders unveil alternatives to violence at Billy Taylor Park

“We recognize that as a community, we are one. And when we are one, all of us hurt,” said Reverend Howard Jenkins Jr. “But also we recognize that we are very familiar with the persons that are oppressors in the sense of gun and gang violence. We know the family members. We have had some type of interaction with them.”
Photo for Faith and community leaders unveil alternatives to violence at Billy Taylor Park

Published on May 25, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

About 100 people gathered in Billy Taylor Park in Providence on Monday evening to commit to building community and ending gun violence. On May 15 two men at the park were shot by masked assailants – as their children played nearby.

“We come here with intentionality, ” said Reverend Howard Jenkins Jr of Bethel AME Church in Providence. “Recognizing the travesties and the violence that has been going on within various communities, not just in the City of Providence.”

Jenkins had gathered a group of faith leaders and community leaders “to stand with one voice.”

Recognizing the importance of action, not just prayer, Reverend Jenkins wanted to bring tools to the community to stop the violence. That tool is AVP, the Alternatives to Violence Project.

“We recognize that as a community, we are one. And when we are one, all of us hurt,” said Reverend Jenkins. “But also we recognize that we are very familiar with the persons that are oppressors in the sense of gun and gang violence. We know the family members. We have had some type of interaction with them.”

Reverend Jenkins wants to share the tools of AVP with these family members, to effect changes in their behavior.

“This is not an overnight process,” conceded Reverend Jenkins. “This takes time.” It took 400 years of oppression to lead us to frustration and disparity, noted the Reverend. “As a result, we’ve come to a crossroads where we all hurt…

“We are here for a purpose – but not just here to pray. We are here to pick up tools that will make a difference in our lives, in the lives of our family members – but just as important – the lives of the persons that are the offenders.”

“We’re talking about what happens when a community, and I’m talking about community in the broadest sense, is starved of resources – starved of housing, starved of education, starved in terms of food security, starved in terms of health access, starved in terms of small business opportunities and jobs,” said Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence Branch. “When you don’t have that, you have a community that cries out in pain.”

Reverend Justin Lester from the Congden Street Baptist Church:

Despite her many professional accomplishments, said Rhode Island Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services Womazetta Jones, “first and foremost I’m a Black mother raising three black children, ages 19, 21 and 24, and every single moment that they are not within my vision, gaze, I’m worried. My stomach is in knots because all of [my] accolades doesn’t mean anything.

“Me and my children are inherently dangerous because we were born with Black and brown skin. We come from a community where there’s so much hopelessness – not by choice, but because of systemic, historic racism.”

Rebecca Luchak, presiding clerk of the Quakers in Providence:

Providence City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) spoke about attending the funeral of Tatyana Shawnte Francis, a 19-year old shot and killed while sitting in a car in Pawtucket. LaFortune is also running for Mayor of Providence.

“I watched a mother sit before her daughter that just a week ago was laughing, in fact was working at a wedding at the church – and that little girl – 19-years old beautiful girl – was laying there, in a casket…

“That girl was my son’s age.

“That’s the consequence of gun violence. .. As aBlack mother of two beautiful, smart children, just like Secretary Jones stated, I fear every day. I fear the violence that’s within our communities, I fear my kid being stopped because of the color of his skin, I fear the systemic racism that exists within our communities. I live in a constant state of fear for my children’s lives.”

Reverend Liz Lerner Maclay from the First Unitarian Church of Providence:

LaJuan Allen is the Deputy Director of Community Relations for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza:

Logan Abel from the Baha’is of Providence:

Reverend Viola Morris-Buchanan, Pastor of Allen AME Church in Providence:

Reverend Jenkins introduces AVP (Alternative to Violence Project):

AVP was developed over 45 years ago in upstate New York and was primarily used with those that are incarcerated.

Morgan Beltrane explained AVP as a collection of tools to bring communities together as alternatives to violence. The program seeks to teach behaviors and skills that may prevent interpersonal violence such as conflict management skills, self esteem, trust, communication, cooperation and community building.

Em is an AVP facilitator and cofounder of AVP RI. Em organized those in attendance into groups for an exercise. During the exercise, people said aloud what they commit to bringing this summer to help build the community.

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