MIAMI – In what can only be described as “keeping it real,” ex-felons, mothers of murdered sons, rapper Luther “Luke” Campbell and others joined clergy, law enforcement and community members for a forum Feb. 4 to discuss violence in the inner city and the factors that contribute to it.
“This will not be just another meeting,” said Rev. Billy Strange, senior pastor of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, the site of the forum.
Located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard (NW 62 Street) in Liberty City, the church is just blocks away from the Jan. 23 shooting that claimed the lives of two young black men, 16-year-old Brandon T. Mills and 18-year-old Derrick Gloster. Seven others were wounded.
Although police have made no arrests in the shooting incident, they are pursuing several leads, according to news reports.
The crime that has drawn national attention, including a visit from civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, was the focus of the meeting, convened specifically to hear from people in the community.
The audience of fewer than 100 consisted primarily of professionals and activists from community programs and law enforcement.
“We felt it was necessary to address the problems, absence of fathers, parenting by single mothers. We felt the violence is directly related to the rap music, movies, broken homes, foster homes, so today we have come together to address these concerns,” Strange said as he informed the audience of his former life as a drug addict.
“I know personally what the street does to a young black man. God gave me another chance.”
Brian Dennis is the executive director of Brothers of the Same Mind, an organization that helps ex-felons with employment and with adjusting to a life outside of prison. Dennis, whose office is on 15th avenue, yards away from the site of the murders, said he was out of town when the shooting occurred and learned about it on CNN. He told the South Florida Times that after the killings, outsiders came into the community and spoke on its behalf.
“Those that are doing the talking, they don’t even know. That [doesn’t] happen everyday. You took an incident and stretched it out of… proportion,” Dennis said. “Al Sharpton flew in and flew out.”
Dennis was joined on a panel that included Queen Brown, the mother of a youth killed by gunfire; and Maurice Strange, the pastor’s brother and a single father of three who recovered from being shot several years ago. Campbell, who grew up in Liberty City during what he called a different time, served as moderator.
“Those were beautiful days. Those were days kids could run up and down the street and if there was a fight…everybody loved each other at the end of the day. When the guns started coming in, other activities started coming in and it became something different,” Campbell recalled.
Brown said she did everything parents should do for their children; even moving out of Liberty City to what she thought was a safer neighborhood. “Unfortunately, after raising my children…my son was murdered.”
Brown said all of her children attended college and two of the four have college degrees. At the time of his death, her son Eviton was 24 and a student at Florida A & M University.
The callousness of the crime left Brown confused, she said.
“I was puzzled. What was so important to someone that they would take out a gun and shoot?’’ she asked.
“That someone took his life, someone that he didn’t know, someone that didn’t know him,” she said of the crime that was logged as Miami-Dade’s 200th murder in 2006. Eviton was shot by an unknown assailant who has not been apprehended.
Brown said she sought answers to her son’s murder, and what she learned disturbed her.
“I found in the year of 2006, we lost 38 children to homicide. I began to look at who’s murdering our children,” she said. “Our children are murdering our children.”
Maurice Strange said parents must become willing to allow other adults to correct their child’s behavior and that parents who defend their children unconditionally do far more harm than good.
“We have to go back to the day of teaching our children morals, respect, to respect their elders. Our children need us to be parents, they need us to be adults,” Strange said.
The father of three boys said they have come to expect his random searches of their book bags and his frequent visits to their schools.
The way parents communicate with their children is also important, he said.
“We don’t talk to them, we talk at them.”
Demetrius Allen has coordinated the popular “Peace in the Hood” event in Liberty City for the past eight years. The event is held in honor of slain DJ Uncle Al (Albert Moss), who was murdered in
2001. Moss was a popular disc jockey known for encouraging peace in the community.
Allen said the way a child feels about himself determines whether he begins a life of crime. And the way a child feels about himself is greatly impacted by how his parents treat him.
“These are different kids,” he said of youth being raised by mothers who are not much older than their children.
“I don’t see any of the mamas in here with the stilettos and the two-for-one tattoos, they are not in here. That’s where the problem is. You have to bring them in and start parenting classes. They don’t tell these kids that they love them in the morning. They’re not kissing them,” he said.
“If you’re taught love, there’s no way that you’re going to buy a gun. No way.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Luther Campbell