May 5, 2015. The Columbus Dispatch.
About 3,000 people of faith gathered at the Ohio Expo Center last night to propose initiatives aimed at reducing violence in Columbus, giving immigrants in the city a way to identify themselves and increasing services for Franklin County’s mentally ill.
The Nehemiah Action event was sponsored by Building Responsibility, Equality and Dignity, an interfaith coalition more commonly known as BREAD. Its membership includes 45 Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Unitarian Universalist congregations.
“What we’re talking about is the difference between people in our community living and dying. This is real,” said the Rev. Clyde Sales, senior minister at the Genessee Avenue Church of Christ on the North Side.
Brenda Minor, a member of Sales’ church, spoke about the mental-health crisis, crying as she said she lost her sister, who suffered with depression, to suicide and her mother to schizophrenia.
“On Friday, May the 8th, I wish I had my mom to call to say ‘Happy Birthday.’ On Sunday, May 10, I wish I could call my mother and sister to say Happy Mothers Day, but by putting it to a higher power, I am still standing,” Minor said. “Just like you all, just like BREAD, I will continue to rise.”
BREAD has encouraged the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County to add two additional Assertive Community Treatment teams of mental-health professionals. Last night, David Royer, the board’s chief executive officer, promised to add a third team. He also said he would present the board with a plan in December for a “clubhouse” that would support people recovering from mental illnesses.
Such facilities can be found in 36 states. Ohio has one, in Cuyahoga County.
BREAD also called for the Columbus Division of Police to adopt the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence used in 75 U.S. cities, including Dayton, Cincinnati and Toledo.
The Rev. Eric Meter, of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville, said the program seeks to pull together people and agencies in the criminal-justice system to target adult members of gangs, helping them find jobs and a new way of life. It also seeks to prosecute gun-related crimes at the federal level.
Representatives of the state Office of Criminal Justice Services and of the U.S. attorney’s office in southern Ohio attended the rally and said they would commit to supporting such a program in Columbus. BREAD members said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien also had signaled his support and that George Speaks, Columbus’ director of public safety, had agreed to convene a meeting of stakeholders and to seek funding for the initiative.
The Rev. David Schalk, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church on the East Side, addressed the immigrant-identification issue, noting that hundreds of U.S. cities accept the Mexican Matricula Consular identification for undocumented Mexican immigrants. He also called for a municipal ID card, saying it would help other immigrants as well as the homeless, youth from the foster system, low-income elderly residents and the recently incarcerated.
BREAD had invited the four Columbus mayoral candidates to the meeting, but only one, James Ragland, attended. He was in support of both ID initiatives.
Sixteen-year-old Salvador Mercado, who was 2 when his family moved to the United States from Mexico, told the crowd about how fearful his parents were as they drove him to school each day without a locally recognized identification card.
“People in my community want a form of ID that is accepted and recognized, that we are human beings like everybody else,” he said to cheers.
Clergy members said the BREAD gatherings give people of faith a way to put their beliefs into action.
“Nehemiah showed us that there is power in numbers,” Sales said. “Often in our society, we don’t have the power to do anything about the problems in the community. But tonight we do.”