Community Groups Throughout LA Unite on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to Combat Violent Crime
January 18, 2007
Over 60 Southern California groups joined in the kickoff event, beginning this year's commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service, by pledging to reduce crimes of violence through increased community service.
This celebration comes just a few weeks after the release of statistics showing that violent crime in Los Angeles dropped for the fifth consecutive year in 2006.
But despite the optimism which this improvement fosters, there were still 464 homicides and almost 14,000 robberies this past year, showing the urgency of continued cooperation to make our communities safe. And the threat of gang violence in the area puts children and youth at risk every day.
David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and Rev. Warren Dolphus of the National Alliance for Faith and Justice (NAFJ) were all present at the conference at Hillcrest Elementary School, kicking off the 14th annual observance of the MLK Day of Service in LA.
"The Corporation for National and Community Service has chosen Los Angeles to start off this year's Day of Service observance for Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. because people here are 'doers.' They want a better community and are willing to work for it," stated Eisner, whose corporation is the U.S government's largest grant provider to volunteer organizations. He told those attending that their targets is to activate an additional 30,000 volunteers for the LA area this year.
A panel of government and community activists, moderated by Ms. Leisa Goodman, Human Rights Director of the Church of Scientology International, agreed that volunteerism is the key to improving our communities. They emphasized that community service is urgent to fight against racially-incited violence such as the recent shootings of three teenage girls, one of whom was slain, in Harbor Gateway, a neighborhood in the southern Los Angeles.
Rev. Dr. Felix Roger Jones III, the co-founder of "Cops and Clergy Network of the Inland Empire" and Bishop Edward Turner, Chair of Sheriff Baca's Multi-faith Clergy Council, pointed out that community service fits perfectly with Dr. King's belief that "everybody can be great because everybody can serve."
Inglewood teenager, Spencer Sims, spoke of how his life was changed by one such community initiative – the "Pen or Pencil Program" (where the word "Pen" stands for "penitentiary'). The program is operated under the auspices of NAFJ. Muslim activist Najee Ali also gave examples of the effectiveness of community work in curbing violence.
"What is happening in Harbor Gateway right now is that people are fed up with being afraid. They want to take back their neighborhood," said former gang member, Jerald Cavitt, now head of "Ceasefire," a gang-intervention program. Cavitt, who testified before Congress on the problem of gang violence, went on to say, "for three weeks in a row we have had marches in the community and another is scheduled for Martin Luther King weekend. People are coming out. This is what is needed. The community must become active and volunteer to help itself."
This year marks the first time the Martin Luther King Day of Service is being celebrated in all 50 states. First enacted by Congress in 1994 under the King Holiday and Service Act, the purpose of the Day of Service is to promote Dr. King's philosophy of active public service.
Some of the organizations participating in this year's LA MLK events are the Housing Authority of Los Angeles, Catholic Big Brothers & Big Sisters, the n-ACTION Family Network, Scouts, the Church of Scientology International, the County of Los Angeles Sheriff's Clergy Council, the Los Angeles Conservations Corps, the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, High Desert-Victorville chapter and HOPE-4-Life Foundation.