Special to South Florida Times
WEST PALM BEACH — High unemployment rates in the Glades area and youth crimes were hot topics at the P.E.A.C.E. Nehemiah Action Assembly.
The coalition called People Engaged in Active Community Efforts held its annual call to action rally at the Palm Beach County Convention Center on April 26.
About 2,000 people gathered from congregations around the county in what organizers said was a move to hold elected officials accountable for “injustices” in local communities.
Palm Beach County Commissioners Paulette Burdick, Jess R. Santamaria and Chairwoman Shelly Vana were in attendance.
P.E.A.C.E. Co-President the Rev. Kevin Jones said the organization gives a voice to those who do not have a voice.
“We have something called The Justice Ministry Network. We build these networks each year,” Jones said. “We have 25 congregations. Each congregation has justice team members that recruit different individuals to develop the network.”
Co-President Father Paul Rasmus said the congregation members “have been concerned about youth crimes. They’ve been concerned about wage theft. They’ve been concerned about jobs and unemployment. We’re here to address those concerns.”
High unemployment in the Glades area — which includes Belle Glade, Canal Point, Clewiston, Pahokee and South Bay — was a major concern at the action assembly.
“If the Glades were a patient, they would be in the (intensive care unit). It’s time for the Glades to get the attention it needs,” said the Rev. Robert Rease of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Belle Glade. “Our citizens want to work. They don’t want a handout.”
The county’s jobless rate has been reported at about 10 percent; the Glades’ between 20 and 40.
LOOKING TO SBA
Tonya Davis Johnson, director of the Palm Beach County Office of Small Business Assistance, was asked to commit to establishing a satellite branch office in the Glades, a goal of tripling the number of certified small businesses in the Glades from 20 to 60 and to meet with city officials every 60 days to give progress reports.
“We have limited resources and businesses interested in working in the Glades. That makes job opportunities difficult,” Johnson responded. But she committed to getting businesses certified with the county, creating targeted outreach programs to create small businesses and helping lower unemployment rates in the Glades.
Santamaria, who represents the Glades area, said he would support initiatives to lower the jobless rates. He pledged to donate his $92,000 annual commission salary to training Glades-area men and women for jobs through Palm Beach State College. “We have a responsibility to assist those less fortunate than us,” he said.
Rasmus said P.E.A.C.E. is also striving to be proactive about decreasing youth crime.
“We are announcing the completion of a neighborhood accountability board for first-time youthful offenders in West Palm Beach,” he said. “A neighborhood accountability board is a way of using restorative justice so that a first-time youthful offender, instead of going through the legal system, ends up with a trained facilitator, possibly the victim if the victim would want to be (that person).”
Jones said people may be “fired up” or touched by the issues surrounding the killing of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford on Feb. 26 but the P.E.A.C.E. organization has been dealing with similar issues for years.
“With the neighborhood accountability board, we see it as an opportunity for the city to work with the community,” he said. “We are trying to avoid a judicial system which is very punitive (for youth). It’s more about restoring the community and getting the community members involved.”
The ages of youth involved in the program would probably range from 15 to 18 but could be as young as 11 and the offenses would be misdemeanors.
Photo: Kevin Jones