The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, the steady, pragmatic leader of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, is stepping down from the organization he helped to found 20 years ago, leaving a void in the city’s faith-based, crime fighting efforts that some say will be difficult to fill.
His departure signals the end of an era and comes at a critical time for TenPoint, whose legacy as the so-called Boston Miracle has lived on while the organization suffers fund-raising problems, inadequate staffing, and stymied efforts to move TenPoint to a higher level.
Brown’s exit, planned for this spring, is also occurring as TenPoint presses to align itself with the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston in what some call a last-gasp effort to keep TenPoint from foundering. Now, news of Brown’s departure has some in Boston wondering if TenPoint will survive.
“My fear is that no one will step in or find people who fill that vacuum,’’ said Teny Gross, a former street worker who teamed with TenPoint’s founders in the 1990s.
Both Brown, the group’s executive director, and the Rev. Ray Hammond, chairman of the board, say TenPoint will continue its gang mediation, prison release, and training programs.
But Hammond acknowledges that as TenPoint determines its next steps with the ministerial alliance, a successor to Brown will not be named for some time.
“We’ll find out if it is a real organization or not,’’ said Hammond. “If it is a real organization, it cannot depend on personalities and founders. . . . All I can say is the people who remain, both the staff and the board, are very much committed to carrying that work forward.”
Brown, who had founded TenPoint with Hammond and the Rev. Eugene Rivers, said he is leaving the organization to fulfill his desire to bring faith-based crime prevention strategies to cities across the country. It is work he has been doing for years on behalf of TenPoint. But now he will serve as a consultant for another group.
Brown said he began thinking seriously about leaving TenPoint in March after he convened a summit in Washington, D.C. He began working with a few cities that wanted to replicate TenPoint’s successes.
But as demands for his expertise grew, Brown said he could no longer serve full time as TenPoint’s executive director and as a consultant for the other group.
“I realized very quickly that this was more advanced than giving presentations across the country,’’ said Brown. “It involves an expert that really understood the terrain.”
The Boston TenPoint Coalition burst onto the scene in 1992, born from outrage of local ministers after gang members stormed into a Mattapan church during a memorial service and attacked their rivals.
At the time, the ministers felt it was their mission to ensure the right of every young man to live in violence-free urban communities and the responsibility of black churches to keep the peace. The effort required clout and charisma from the three founders, though Rivers eventually parted from the group.
The clergy built trust between police and skeptical residents and spawned community policing responses to violence. The ministers’ goal was quashing the crack-cocaine markets and gang violence paired with it.
Homicides fell from 152 in 1990 to 31 in 1999 in what became known as the Boston Miracle.
But over the years, TenPoint’s movement stumbled, crime crept up, and the founders bickered. The group struggled to retain its footing amid competing nonprofits angling for funds in a constricting economy. TenPoint’s funding plummeted by 30 percent, and full-time staff was slashed, Brown and Hammond said.
Those familiar with its history said TenPoint was not prepared for its quick rise or the high expectations that followed.
Plus, the work to end violent crime is hard, dirty, and painful. It is work, they say, that was difficult for any group to sustain.
In 2009, Brown, a TenPoint founder and former board chairman, stepped down as pastor of his Cambridge church to head TenPoint. He is hailed for leading TenPoint through hard economic times and standing out as a trusted voice for Boston’s black clergy, said the Rev. Gregory Groover, who chairs the board for the Ministerial Alliance. TenPoint, Groover said, will not be the same without Brown.
“I think this will be the organization’s opportunity to rise to the challenge,’’ Groover said. “If we accept the challenge, I don’t think it will be weaker.‘’
Some observers say that with limited funding and a shrinking staff, Brown was not able to broaden his vision at TenPoint.
“Jeff Brown is a good spokesman,’’ said the Rev. Mark Scott, a TenPoint associate. “He’s a presence. He’s respected. He’s got a good story to tell. But he has too few troops.”
Fighting street crime has changed over the last 20 years, and TenPoint is long overdue for a leadership change.
“We have learned some things,’’ said the Rev. Bruce Wall, a Dorchester pastor. “We need a progressive leader here in Boston.’’
“The challenge is the leadership doesn’t know when to leave,’’ added Rivers. “Personnel changes have to be made for the sake of the organization, the black community, and the city.”
Mayor Thomas M. Menino praised Brown as a minister who “did things the right way” by bringing people together to solve their problems.
But Menino concedes that Boston’s faith-based anticrime effort has weakened since the 1990s.