The streets of Northwest Hallandale, Pembroke Park and what is now the city of West Park used to be controlled by mostly young, black, small-time, drug dealers — until what looked like an army of fatigue-uniformed black men, 60 to 80 strong, descended on those would-be gangsters and gave them an ultimatum: Stop tonight or go to jail.
“We went to these young men and boys who were controlling the streets and told them that this was your last night on the street; if not, you’re going to jail,” said the Rev. Mathes Guice, church elder and Men’s Ministry director at the Koinonia Worship Center of Pembroke Park.
The Koinonia men made the drug dealers repeat what they said about giving up drug dealing now or go to jail.
Rev. Guice, now retired, was a Broward Sheriff’s deputy when the church started the movement years ago.
“Some dealers came with us and some went to jail,” Guice said. But, he added, the Koinonia men reached into the justice system, Guice said, “and worked on those in jail and turned lives around.”
Guice says that any community in America can be cleaned-up in six months to a year. Koinonia members believe that faith-based initiatives work because “when the church addresses the root of the problem, which is sin, then behavior that comes from sin is dealt with and eliminated.” Guice will tell you that police can only deal with the results of sin.
Koinonia’s model works because of the spiritual leadership of its senior pastor, the Rev. Eric H. Jones Jr., who developed an activist church with a strong spiritual foundation and a civil rights methodology. Activist church members helped spearhead the creation of the city of West Park and the Rev. Jones was elected mayor.
All manner of devious devices were used against the thrust to create West Park and, since its incorporation, political and economic maneuvering and negative press have been used to demoralize the city’s overwhelming number of black residents — to no avail.
Guice spent many years in leadership positions within South Florida NAACP branches, first in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties before nearly 20 years as an official of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the NAACP. But, like many in leadership positions throughout the NAACP, Guice soured on the organization’s complacency at the local, state and national levels.
Guice, a native of the Hallandale area, one Friday night saw “people coming from every direction going to Koinonia, people I knew from the streets, all kinds of people.”
Entering the church and hearing the Rev. Jones preaching did it for Guice. He had his epiphany and has been with the Rev. Jones ever since and even studied and became a minister.
With Guice and the Men‘s Ministry, Jones took the church out of the four walls and “created a new social and spiritual paradigm.” The church has cultivated great working relations with law enforcement chiefs and officers, local elected officials, various agencies and community residents to support its thrust.
Solutions that work in the special milieu of Harlem or Oakland, for example, have to be seriously modified for the Koinonia model, which touts its “Christian Men of Destiny.” Many failures have resulted throughout the nation because social engineers have decided that what works one place will work everywhere, which rankles the science that educated Jones and his followers.
Through a Men’s Conference the church held recently, it is hoped that other churches will begin to develop initiatives based on the successful Koinonia model of youth, men, family and community development. Guice reminds that “through Christ we are enabled to do all things.”
Guice says that the church has transformative power. “Seeing that we have that power and do nothing, we are in fact, the problem by default,” he says.
The Koinonia model centers on the “critical pillars of our community: family, school system, community and the church.” Guice says that each is a “piece of a puzzle. We must put all the pieces in place in order to see and understand the whole picture.”
What puzzles me is why the Koinonia Worship Center is alone, what with the proliferation of black churches, especially within inner cities.
Al Calloway may be reached at Al_Calloway@Verizon.net