Clasping Hands to Safeguard District's Youth
Police, Business, Faith Groups Unite
By Dakarai I. Aarons
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; Page B03
A small, hot room in the D.C. police department's east regional operations command center rocked yesterday with the hand-clapping, foot-stomping gospel sound that is normally found in many District churches every Sunday.
But the crowd, composed largely of clergy members, made it clear it was there to claim victory in the name of Jesus by taking back the streets for the sake of the children.
"God is calling us to collaborate," the Rev. Donald L. Isaac told those in the packed room in the command center, which also included local and national business community members. "It takes all of us working together in our respective roles."
The mission is called 40 Days of Increased Peace, a partnership between the East of the River Clergy and the D.C. police department that is in its fourth year.
The program, which began Friday and runs until Aug. 3, is aimed at keeping children safe when school is not in session. Events include talent contests, cookouts, sports tournaments and information sessions on HIV and AIDS, date rape and other issues.
The number of homicides in the District is down this year compared with 2003. As of Friday, 87 people had been killed, compared with 121 last year. The violence has claimed 13 children under age 18, one more than in all of 2003.
Isaac, the partnership's executive director, credited programs aimed at keeping teenagers off the street as one reason for the decline in homicides. But still, he said, too many people are dying. "One murder is too much," he said.
For Trayon White, such summer programs have been a salvation. White, 20, said he once was running the streets and stealing cars. He now studies business administration at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and comes back most weekends to the Congress Heights neighborhood where he grew up, to help other youths make the transition.
"If we don't come back, then who will?" he asked.
In the idle summer months, jobs and other programs are crucial to keeping young people away from violent activities, said White, who graduated from Ballou Senior High School in 2002. "We have to intercede in young people's lives," he said. That's what is necessary."
The partnership has its roots in a meeting five years ago that Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey held with religious and business leaders.
Assistant Chief Winston Robinson, who addressed yesterday's gathering at the Penn Branch shopping center in Southeast, asked people to pray for the program's success this year. And Susan Newman, senior adviser for religious affairs to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said the partnership is an example of putting faith into action.
"We haven't done all we can do, but we are here today to commit to doing more," Newman said. "Every child deserves the right to have hope every morning when they wake up."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Participants in the "40 Days of Increased Peace" partnership join in prayer at the D.C. police department's east regional operations command center.
(Photos Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)