After outlining staggering statistics showing the breakdown of the family unit in the black community and how that can lead children to a life of crime, the Rev. Donald Hunter delivered a call to arms to the audience gathered Saturday.
“If you are willing to help, stand now,” he said.
At that, nearly 50 people seated in the S.E. Mackey Center gymnasium rose from their chairs.
“So we have an army,” he said, looking out at the crowd.
Those volunteers will be part of a new initiative that seeks to break the cycle of crime in the black community by repairing the family structure.
Hunter spent nearly two hours Saturday presenting a collection of findings from national studies, statistics from East Baton Rouge Parish court systems and the results of an independent survey to show the devastating effects of broken households.
Hunter and several other pastors were seeking volunteers to go out into the community to mentor delinquent youths, troubled parents and couples struggling to stay together. “We have a problem,” he said. “We’re going to have to accept that if we’re going to fix it. It’s not too late.”
The volunteers would meet with families in the most crime-ridden ZIP code areas for a minimum of 50 sessions, teaching parenting skills and responsibility and emphasizing life goals to troubled youths.
Hunter said he needs many more people with a background in counseling or teaching to train volunteers to do outreach in the community. The trainers will meet next week to devise a training design, which will then be taught to the volunteers.
Anyone interested in volunteering is asked to email Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of those who spoke Saturday said the pastors’ initiative is an example of the community taking action without waiting for elected officials to make the first move.
“You always hear it, people will say, ‘Someone ought to do something,’ ” Bertran Wyre said to the crowd. “Today, that someone is you.”
Maxwell Segue called the pastors’ work to organize the effort “a beautiful thing.”
Segue said he sees the statistics and the numbers he was presented with Saturday in their true form every day.
“You have the young men with their pants around their knees, and the young women who look like they’re about to get on the pole,” he said. “And then they’ll have their children right next to them, trying to be like them. Where is Jesus in these homes?”
Most of the attendees gathered in clusters after the presentation, discussing their own childhood experiences, parenting styles and the issues they see in their neighborhoods.
“So many times, daughters don’t know their own value, because they don’t have a father there to tell them they’re beautiful,” Shelia Burgess said to a small group.
The discussion continued among those in the group, with most expressing their own excitement about helping to effect change.
Sylvester and Florencia McDonald said they were compelled to volunteer because the statistics shown were “overwhelming.”
“They weren’t shocking because you can see it every day, but it was overwhelming to see it laid out in the numbers,” Sylvester McDonald said. “I knew it was bad, but not that bad.”
The couple said they’ll use their life experiences in growing up in abusive, broken households, to show the families they counsel that your circumstances do not have to define your life.
Sylvester McDonald has worked in the construction business for 15 years, and Florencia McDonald is studying to get her business degree, they said.
“We’re an example that you don’t have to be a woman with three or four baby daddies or a man who’s locked up,” Florencia McDonald said. “You can do something.”