The Rev. Jeffrey Brown’s departure as executive director of the TenPoint Coalition is a loss for Boston, which has benefited from the group’s work in reducing youth violence. But Brown’s departure also creates an opportunity for the faith-based crime-fighting initiative to reassess and reinvent its role in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.
Started by a group of black ministers, the TenPoint coalition was a symbol of community resolve in the high-crime ’90s. It pushed hard for education and employment programs, and served as a link between African-American neighborhoods and police. The work of coalition members helped bring about the “Boston Miracle” — the period during which the number of murders dropped from 152 in 1990 to 31 in 1999. That tally, concentrated in parts of Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury, remained as low as 39 as recently as 2003.
But it has inched back up. It was 58 last year, after several years mostly in the 60s and 70s. While Boston’s homicide rate remains well below those of Washington, New Orleans, and Baltimore, it’s now higher than those of New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Minneapolis. And, as ministers in troubled neighborhoods know, the basic dynamics of violence in Boston are changing.
Just ask the Rev. Gregory Groover, president of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, which is trying to keep TenPoint’s mission alive. Noting that faith-based anti-crime initiatives in Boston have often been led by ministers in traditional Protestant denominations, Groover said clergy must now find ways to connect with immigrant communities who are evangelical or Catholic.
Meanwhile, the way young people interact in troubled neighborhoods has changed dramatically. Youth activity has shifted onto Facebook and mobile phones. Coming to grips with these changes is crucial for religious leaders who hope to make a dent in violence. As Groover put it, “The black clergy still has a viable role with high-risk youth, but we need to regroup, retool, and recognize that the tactics and strategies that worked 20 years agomay not be as workable.”
That’s a worthy concern not just for ministers, but also for police, elected leaders, and everyone else seeking to reduce violence in Boston. It’s encouraging that Groover and others recognize the need to adapt to changing times. TenPoint’s leaders, wisely, are holding off on naming a successor for Brown, as they consider whether a new or relaunched initiative might be more effective in coming years. Ultimately, it wasn’t TenPoint the organization that helped yield the Boston Miracle. What mattered then, and will matter in the future, is the clergy’s commitment to troubled neighborhoods, and its willingness to work together and with others.