PENDEFORD ADVENTIST CHURCH – VENUE FOR COMMUNITY DEBATE ON GANG VIOLENCE
7th September 2017
This month we have heard once again more depressing news of the stabbing of a 14-year-old black teenage male in Forest Gate, London.
It was therefore timely, knowing that the cultural engine for the country often starts in the capital and moves up the country, that a community meeting was held in the Pendeford area of Wolverhampton to address the issue of gang-related violence, particularly in the black community.
The meeting was convened by Jenny Taylor, High Risk Mediator and Director of EYES (Engage Youth Empowerment Services) and Director of Wolverhampton based Community Reference Group, Jenny is a passionate believer in redemptive work for young people and bringing out the best in them.
The meeting was held at Pendeford Seventh-day Adventist church where Dr Patrick Herbert is the pastor. The meeting was hosted by New Testament Church of God member, Joe Jackson and entrepreneurial businessman and youth motivator Leslie Fairclough.
Also present were two high-ranking community police officers, as well as church leaders, educators, local council representatives, parents and most importantly young people.
This was not merely a meeting of concerned others. The organisers, like the parents had the vested interest to bring young people to the meeting, so it was not merely a meeting about young people but an inclusive meeting for young people. In fact, they went further, bringing two ex-gang members, one of whom was an articulate young man from London, now residing in the West Midlands who had seen things no regular person should see. The other was an ex-local gang member from Wolverhampton who had been incarcerated four times. Both had much to enlighten us regarding the disturbing evolution of gang violence, stating clearly that gang members are dressing in garb disturbingly reminiscent of certain terrorist groups with faces masked and carrying swords dipped in acid, machetes, and sub-machine guns. They are not afraid to kill, do time and no longer fear the police.
It was an engaging meeting with many passionate exchanges. There were parents present, particularly struggling single mothers who voiced their frustration in no uncertain terms about being labelled pejoratively as single parents when they are 'present' parents. They were also angry and expressed bitter disappointment how the police had targeted their sons unjustly. A police commissioner presented the uncomfortable statistic that after having reviewed hundreds of cases of shootings and stabbings, black young men were disproportionately represented as perpetrators.
One grandparent, very active in Wolverhampton and with a deep interest in the welfare of the black community, Claudette Mitchell, stated that the place to start is with the youngest generation coming up. She challenged the local government representative present to put more money into saving and educating the nascent generation of youth. Others joined in to support her and a stark warning was given that if the rising generation were not saved then the future looked even worse.
A doctrine of shock therapy was also recommended, suggesting that a way should be made for teenagers to do visits to prison as in America and have selective inmates address them in a preventative manner to heighten the impact of understanding consequences. One of the ex-gang members said what turned him around was suddenly realising what he was doing to his parents and how his actions were affecting them, his mother in particular.
The one group that was not mentioned in any big way was the church and the positive contribution it could have. With the meeting being hosted by a devout Christian, and pastors being present, held in the Seventh-day Adventist church hall, in the Dovecote community centre of Wolverhampton, showed some evidence that the church is already there on the ground and involved.
But like all parties concerned it is clear that more needs to be done by all. Pastor Herbert in dialogue with Joe Jackson stated that he was happy for the church to be used for more meetings like this. To which Joe stated it is interesting that God has His churches planted in areas of the city where they are needed most to provide assistance in these times of crises.
Convenor and Mediating Director Jenny Taylor plans to convene another bigger meeting in the not so distant future giving an opportunity for some of the solutions to be put into practice. We welcome this wholeheartedly.