It’s as simple as that. I’m tired of seeing young people involved in senseless acts of violence. I’m tired of children being afraid to go outside, and their parents afraid to take them to the park. When I was a child, we would go out to play all morning. And, we felt safe. Why can’t our children feel the same way? It’s time to reclaim our streets and take back our communities.
A year ago, I became frustrated after preaching at too many funerals of young people, murdered on our streets. I made some phone calls and determined that many of my colleagues felt the same way. We decided it was time to change the culture of violence in St. Louis.
So, we started meeting about a year ago and created SIRV, The St. Louis Initiative to Reduce Violence. SIRV is a grassroots effort involving St. Louis communities, law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations, schools and community leaders dedicated to designing and implementing solutions to curb violence in our region. We decided to launch the program and run a pilot project in two areas: Jennings and District 6. Violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault) is one and a half times higher in District 6 than in the rest of the city of St. Louis. It’s three times higher in Jennings than in St. Louis County overall. After launching our grassroots efforts in these two areas this year, we will take what we learn and look to expand the program to other areas in our region.
Many of our young people only know violence as a way to solve problems. When they become frustrated or insecure, their only outlet is through anger. This is the culture they have grown up in. This is the only culture they know. We need to stop it. We have established several task force groups to work in these communities. These include a faith-based group, a behavioral health group, a group focused on schools and school programs in the pilot project areas, a law enforcement and probation and parole group, and a group focused on fundraising and building partnerships with local businesses.
We have assembled a board of directors and an advisory board that includes judges, school administrators, law enforcement and community leaders. There are other groups attempting to do the same thing, and crime statistics overall in our community are coming down. But, it takes hard work and lots of it to keep that going in the right direction. I am confident that together, we can change the culture of violence in St. Louis. To learn more, or to donate to help the cause, go to www.SIRVstl.org.
The time to act is now. Today is the day we start taking back our streets.
Pastor B.T. Rice is president and chairman of New Horizon Christian Church, and first vice president and chairman of police affairs of the St. Louis County branch, NAACP