Twenty years ago, a few clergy in Boston felt the faith-based community should do something to stop the violence. A short time later, gang violence broke out in a church during a funeral service for a gang member. The clergy, over 350 representing all of the world’s major religions and several sects and denominations within those religions were so outraged they met to develop a response. After a short time, responses fell into three categories, one focused on creating more programs, e.g. afterschool/summer and jobs to keep kids busy and off the streets. Another group focused on better policing and gun control policy and a third group, the smallest of the three felt since the violence took place in a house of worship, the faith-based community should respond. That small group went on to become the Boston TenPoint Coalition. They started walking the streets and talking to the youth directly asking, “Help us to understand all of this violence”, and “What do you recommend we do to stop it?”
They had a vision to end the culture of violence as a way to end the era of violence. Looking at the civil rights movement as a model, where the faith-based community was able to change a culture’s attitude toward race, they felt it was possible to change a nation’s attitude toward violence. Similar to how the civil rights movement worked to change policy, legislation and a nation’s attitude toward race, versus trying to convert each and every racist, a similar approach was being taken with violence. But they knew they could not do it alone. It would take a collaborative effort from everyone, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslim, law enforcement and the courts, community organizations, the private sector and city agencies. As a result, they formed The Boston TenPoint Coalition, a coalition of groups united in a common cause of ending the era of violence.
This coalition was so effective at reducing gang violence; it became known as, “The Boston Miracle.” Homicides fell from a high of 152 in 1990 to an all time low of 31 in 1997. The Boston Miracle was studied by over 300 jurisdictions from around the world. Historically, Boston TenPoint has enjoyed strong bipartisan support. George H.W. Bush named it a Point of Light and in February of 1997, President Bill Clinton came to Boston and chose to recognize Boston’s ‘combined effort by police, clergy, community leaders and gang members helped reduce the homicide rate to a 38 year low in 1999. Two academics from Harvard Kennedy’s school Dr.Chris Winship and Dr. Anthony Braga have published over 14 journal articles that involve The Boston TenPoint Coaliton and its methodology. But as the program got replicated, groups fell into their traditional approaches and lost sight of the role the faith-based community could play in reducing gang violence. Now municipalities and law enforcement from the community level to the highest levels of the justice department realize the faith-based community must play a role in reducing gang violence.
The Boston Ten Point Coalition focuses on reducing street violence three ways:
- Direct Service – We operate a number of programs and provide direct services to our targeted populations. The services are not seen as the solution to the problem, but a part of the solution when working in partnership with the coalition faith-based organizations as clergy and lay-leaders discern how they can contribute. By continuing to provide direct service, the organization is able to obtain first hand feedback and develop best practices. The issues related to gang violence change with the times and therefore it is important to be “on the ground” understanding those shifting issues as they occur. These programs also serve both as model programs that help answer “how to” and “what if” questions” and as a “test center” where new tactics can be tried, and their effects studied. Over the years a number of effective tactics have been developed.
- Capacity Building – we believe the way to have the largest impact is to leverage the resources in the faith-based community, because they are strategically located, have an understanding of the context and culture of violence as well as access to some financial and human resources. Because religious leaders are part of the community, they have legitimacy and are more easily accepted than groups with solutions that appear to come from “the outside”. The Boston Ten Point Coalition is unique in its approach in teaching the faith community in how to get involved, and minister to this population. There is a wide range of opportunities for people to become involved with proven risk and/or gang involved kids, from home visits, working in schools with violent offenders, providing counsel and comfort after a shooting, working with kids who are incarnated, providing and supervising community service projects for kids on probation, organizing neighborhood walks in dangerous communities, etc. By expanding the ability of the faith-based organizations to do this work, it improves community participation in violence reduction, resulting in better community policing, police community relations, neighborhood watch programs and most importantly, the development of programs and activities that have a direct impact on the reduction of violence.
- Advocacy – we organize with other stakeholders, starting with the faith-based community and in partnership with others in the coalition such as law enforcement, government agencies and community organizations to increase or maintain funding for critical programs, to change legislation and policy that has a direct impact on youth violence in general and violence facilitated by gang involved youth in particular. We see this as a way to leverage our impact.