The United Church of Christ is one of several organizations bringing together community leaders and former gang members in Cleveland this weekend to continue decades-long work aimed at reducing the epidemic of youth gang violence. The UCC is one of 35 groups — along with Coalition for a Better Life (Peace in the Hood) and the International Council for Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment — that collectively make up the International Urban Peace, Justice and Empowerment Summit. The summit, from May 30 through June 2, has a dual mission — to continue 25 years of productive grassroots work to stop gang violence, and to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first gathering of this kind.
The Rev. Sala W.J. Nolan Gonzales will represent the UCC during the gathering, leading the effort to draft an urban policy that addresses problems of violence, crime, poverty and destructive behavior in inner-city communities, as well as proposing ways to achieve and sustain peace in those neighborhoods. That policy will be presented to government leaders, who’ve gone back and forth debating gun reform legislation, as a basis for a comprehensive approach to reducing violent deaths.
Nolan believes in a holistic, wide-reaching approach to solving issues of violence and crimes by addressing social issues at the core of the community, and the summit will operate on that same belief. Attendees will spend time together looking at several ways at how inner-city violence and gangs problems can be triggered by social issues of mental and physical health, inequalities in economic justice and racial profiling.
"I am interested in several of those components. I’m looking to see how we address mental, physical and environmental health issues, the criminal justice and policing pieces, racial profiling and political prisoners," said Nolan.
Nolan is also looking forward to some of the educational dialogue with new and returning participants, and a program that specifically addresses violence against women. That topic has been the focus of news reports and community discussion in Northeast Ohio recently, after three missing women who were abducted off the street and held captive for a decade were found alive in a home in west Cleveland just a few weeks ago.
"We’ve been doing this and had successes in ending violence, and that is because community members and activists have stayed engaged," Nolan said of the rescue of the three women. "People were there staying involved for 10 years."
The Coalition for a Better Life is a Cleveland-based organization that works in inner-city neighborhoods to mentor youth and children to build community and develop cultural skills. The International Council is a group of 35 grassroots and community-based organizations in the U.S. that respond to public concerns such as gang violence, firearms trafficking, drug use, and other issues that threaten inner-city neighborhoods.
The first gang summit, which met in 1993, was an effort to curb inner-city violence in Los Angeles after six days of rioting. The L.A. riots, which resulted in 53 deaths, were sparked by the acquittal of mostly white police officers, seen on tape beating an African American man, Rodney King. Since then, the groups have remained close in their collective work in search of bettering urban America.
"Look at the results of what came out of the 1993 summit — with no money, the Urban Peace and Justice Movement has been able to sustain itself over that period of time," said Amir Khalid Samad of the Coalition for a Better Life, and one of the regional representatives to the summit. "If you can do that with no federal or state dollars, what can you do if money was targeted to groups on the ground doing the work?