The powerful ideas that gave birth to the Boston TenPoint Coalition were a key part of the “Boston Miracle’’ — the period in the 1990s when violent crime in the city dropped dramatically. Black clergy were challenged to go into the streets and engage drug dealers and gang members. The result was that the clergy mentored youths on how to avoid violence, gain an education, and secure a job.
But the attention brought about by national recognition of the successful program produced new dynamics. Over time, the clergy began to retreat from the streets. Today, most young people have no idea what the TenPoint Coalition is. In addition, the failure of TenPoint leadership to cultivate young, bright talent has produced a leadership vacuum. Meanwhile, TenPoint’s connection to the criminal justice system has waned, and the organization is now viewed by most law enforcement players as irrelevant. There are no new powerful ideas and few boots on the ground.
The departure of the Reverend Jeffery L Brown, whose courageous leadership helped give birth to TenPoint, has one positive aspect; it provides an opportunity for the coalition to regain the vitality of its original vision and its relevance to the lives of black youths caught up in gangs and violence. The first step is to identify new leaders who can bring fresh and dynamic ideas to the organization and inspire and recruit young people.
TenPoint must also adapt to the new face of crime. Since the coalition’s founding in 1992, technology has been revolutionizing crime. For growing numbers of inner-city youth, Facebook, Twitter, and iPhones are the new street corners. Social media are used to facilitate crime and target potential victims. We need to study youth culture to better understand how to intervene in this new world.
In addition, anyone thinking seriously about reviving the TenPoint model should read reports published by the research organization Public/Private Ventures, which evaluated the TenPoint Coalition model as it was replicated in 17 cities.
For growing numbers of inner-city youth, Facebook, Twitter, and iPhones are the new street corners.
The coalition’s leadership must also take a hard, candid look at itself and its performance over the last 10 years. Leaders must listen to black youths and members of the community, and make changes with their assistance.
TenPoint leaders must also reinstitute the practice of having clergy in the streets to engage gangs and drug dealers. This critical component fell into disuse in the late 1990s. But having boots on the ground helps in detecting new trends in youth violence. And only with face-to-face contact can relationships be built between clergy and faith-based workers and high-impact criminal players and marginal gang-involved youths.
One final aspect of the original TenPoint model must be reignited. Relationships with law enforcement have waned over the last 10 years. Renewing regular contact with criminal justice agencies at the city, state, and federal levels is essential to returning TenPoint to effectiveness.
When these steps have successfully been completed, the TenPoint Coalition will be ready to re-engage in the community. In the 1990s, the coalition focused on teenagers and young adult males. Today the focus must be on children in elementary and middle schools, to intervene before they become involved in gangs. It must also be on the rise of girls’ involvement in violent criminal enterprises. Finally, our original target group of young males must be provided with social services that take them off the streets.
The survival of the TenPoint Coalition is critical, as we face intensified challenges in violent crime. Black churches must once again organize to reclaim our sons and daughters. If the TenPoint Coalition renews its vision, it can once again serve as a beacon for the city and the country.
Reverend Eugene F. Rivers 3d is co-founder of the Boston TenPoint Coalition.