The Rev. Vernon Williams plans to host four early evening street parties — featuring sporting games, food and thumping hip-hop music — to attract the pint-sized audience and school them, along with their families, on the non-nos of gang life.
“It’s not like we don’t know who these kids are,” said Williams, who spent the past two weeks huddling with cops, clergy and anti-crime activists hammering out the ambitious details. “We can put them on a successful path and prevent them from running with the gang members.”
Williams, the pastor of Perfect Peace Ministry of Harlem, said he was prompted to take action by the dogged devotion to gangs proclaimed by some youngsters — even after an unprecedented takedown earlier this month led to 103 indictments of suspected gang members at the Manhattanville and Grant Houses.
For the best picks, get HWM's must read newsletter!
“We will have an intervention team going around and talking to the parents and families of these kids,” Williams said, explaining the teams will fan out into the nearby Grant Houses surveying adult residents about their kids’ educational and financial needs.
The first bash is slated for July 24, from 4-8 p.m. in Morningside Park, on W. 123rd St. and Manhattan Ave. Williams plans to host a picnic that will include a deejay and basketball games.
Volunteers from churches and anti-crime groups from throughout Harlem will spend the next six months following up with the families, helping them to avail themselves of city and social service programs.
You don’t know who you can help until you try. If you don’t begin to engage these kids, we are going to lose them
Williams’ coalition is planning similar summertime parties near the Manhattanville Houses, on Manhattan Ave. near W. 119th St. and St. Nicholas Terrace near W. 127th St.
“You don’t know who you can help until you try,” said Jackie Rowe-Adams, founder of Harlem Mothers Save, who signed on to the Williams’ cause. “If you don’t begin to engage these kids, we are going to lose them. We have to have something for these kids to do.”
And Shawanna Vaughn, founder of nonprofit Silent Cry, plans to take the at-risk youngsters on field trips, to places such as Virginia Beach, so they can see what life is like away from the drug-filled city housing developments.
“We plan on knocking on these doors. You can’t get them to come to you, you gotta come to them,” said Vaughn whose group focuses on teaching elementary and high-school truants.
“We are trying to create peace and a better life for people in these developments,” Vaughn said (source).