02/25/08 — Officials: Stop the Funeral Initiative is changing lives now

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Officials: Stop the Funeral Initiative is changing lives now

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on February 25, 2008 1:50 PM

The Stop the Funeral Initiative is not supposed to be an end-all for violence in Goldsboro's community.

That is impossible, the Rev. Dr. William Barber said.

But what the local movement is supposed to do is to take a step against violence and to get youths off of the streets, the North Carolina president of the NAACP said.

As a collaborative effort of Concerned Clergy, Rebuilding Broken Places, the Goldsboro/Wayne Branch of the NAACP and more than 30 churches, the initiative is aimed at giving the youths in the community choices.

"We want to offer alternatives," said Francine Smith, administrator for the initiative. "We want them to know that they have other avenues. We want to stop the unnecessary violence."

How do they take the guns out of the hands of the community's youth and pull them out of gang-related activity?

One person at a time, Barber and Ms. Smith said.

"Children are all faced with decisions every day," Ms. Smith said. "They have to choose between the right things or gangs and drugs. We help them make the right choice."

Every child has dreams, and those with the initiative help them work to achieve their goals.

"We bring them resources that they need to do that," Ms. Smith said.

If a young person wants to start a business, volunteers find people to help them work toward doing that. If he or she wants to go to college, help might be available to fill out applications or to track down financial support.

"There is a lot of information out there," Ms. Smith said. "We work with them one-on-one to help each one achieve. And if they need a hand to walk them through the process, we are that hand."

During their Corner-2-Corner Drug Dealer/Gang Member Redemption Conference, volunteers and experts encouraged youths in gangs and on the streets to look deeper at that they could accomplish if they left the life they were living.

There were success stories.

Nearly 80 youths signed up, and 36 graduated from the program.

Many have gone on to college.

"There was this one man who was at the top of a drug ring in Durham," Barber said. "Now he is out of the ring and helping others."

Another young man who was in a gang came to the conference to ask if those with the initiative were "real." He learned that they were, and he is out of the gang and working full-time now, Ms. Smith said.

The conference and their activities aren't limited to those youths who are in gangs, though. They are open to any young person.

"This is something that all children need. They are all faced with the same decisions. They don't know that they have issues that face each and every one of them," Ms. Smith said.

But what about those who are involved with gangs or are so far in, it is nearly impossible for them to get out even if they wanted to?

"We work with the Goldsboro Police Department, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, (Judge) Jerry Braswell and the district attorney to help these kids get out and to keep them away from violence and keep them safe," she said.

At the end of the day, if one life is changed, the initiative is working, but to make a real impact in the community, it is going to take time, the volunteers said.

"It's like all those people that come to church on Sunday," Barber said. "I don't hope to save them all on one Sunday, but if they keep coming back, I can save them."

The effects of the intiative can't be assessed by numbers, he added. They have to be measured by the lives saved from violence.

"It's like when you throw a rock into a pond," he said. "The rock doesn't do anything right away, but it's the ripples that change the water. We are looking for those ripples of change."

And that could take time -- a commitment the volunteers are ready to make.

"When we started this intiative, we said we would keep it going for three to five years, and we are going to do that," Barber said.

"This is just the beginning," Ms. Smith said. "We have just begun."

The initiative is holding its last Black History Month luncheon at noon on Feb. 28 at the Waynesborough Village, where it will honor its supporters.

For more information on the intiative, call the office at 581-9178 ext. 104 or Barber at 394-8137.