11/18/09 — 'Stop the Funeral' conference opens today

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'Stop the Funeral' conference opens today

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 18, 2009 1:46 PM

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber says he knows that the name of his initiative evokes a bold, perhaps impossible mission -- to "stop" the funerals.

The group begins today its third "Drug Dealer and Gang Member Redemption Conference," at Rebuilding Broken Places Community Development Corp.

Barber and his group seemed willing to admit that "stopping the funerals" may be more than any one group can do.

"We can't solve every problem," Barber said of his Christian ministry.

But the group has expanded its purpose, realizing the bombast of the name may shroud what the "redemption conference" is actually intended to do, he and other members of the group said.

Barber said the name of the group, formed on a wave of emotion after a 2007 fatal retribution shooting at a Goldsboro funeral home, was at first a necessity.

"It's radical," Barber said of the name. "Sometimes you need a shock treatment. Who would have the audacity to believe that you could do that -- that you could stop the funerals?"

Barber, who is also the state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the group really intends to change cultural beliefs, one person at a time.

"It's not only the loss of life," Barber said. "We need to stop the death of our dreams. We need to stop the death of hope. We believe that people can turn around. That lives can be changed. That we don't have to just accept the negatives that exist."

The conference, which has been used in sentencing agreements by the Superior Court system, will also feature an appearance by Sheriff Carey Winders.

Other nationally-known programs will also be featured including the Campaign4Change.

Not everyone taking part in the conference is an offender, however. Today's events, at 2105 N. William St., are open to anyone under age 17 with permission from their parents, and also to youth who attend alternative schools.

The group is composed of "covenant partners" from a number of area churches. Esther Perara is a representative of St. Mark Church of Christ on West Ash Street.

"We are here, actually as a mandate, and a commitment," Ms. Perara said. "We are showing our compassion for these youth."

Wennona Newsome, a representative of St.. James Zion Church on South George Street, said that young people can easily come to feel lost, without guidance in their lives.

"We talk to them, and being real with them, and letting them know that we've been there before," Ms. Newsome said. "We can show you how you can come about bringing this change, if you're willing to work at it."