March 24, 2009. The Florida Times-Union.
Scripture says faith can move mountains.
But can it move governments and communities to reduce murder and infant mortality rates and provide jobs and drug rehabilitation to ex-offenders?
Two Jacksonville faith-based organizations chose this week to answer yes to that question by staging events they say will shed light on the city’s social ills and hold officials and citizens accountable for their solutions.
At least 1,020 members of ICARE – the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment – held their annual assembly Monday night.
Sheriff John Rutherford and representatives from the school district, the City Council and area hospitals stood before those gathered at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church downtown and answered a series of questions probing their support for anti-crime, infant health, prisoner recidivism and employment issues.
Rutherford committed to continuing and beefing up patrols in some of the city’s most crime-infested areas, while hospital officials vowed to begin the process of improving breast-feeding education for new moms.
The ICARE meeting was more than a symbolic gathering that provides fellowship for like-minded believers.
“It actually sends a message that the community is interested in these particular issues,” Rutherford said.
The Interfaith Council of Jacksonville will take on the subject of crime with a panel discussion on violence tonight. The discussion runs 7:30 to 9:30 at Southside United Methodist Church, 3120 Hendricks Ave.
The event is meant to chip away at the cultural and communication barriers that exist between different neighborhoods and faith groups in the city, said the Rev. John Young, one of the event organizers.
Since its inception in the late 1970s, the council has focused more on fostering dialogue between the leaders of different faith groups in Jacksonville, said Young, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jacksonville.
The panel discussion at Southside United Methodist is a new one as the council seeks to broaden the conversation to laypeople as well.
Panelists will discuss how violence in various forms impacts all areas of the community, not just the higher-crime neighborhoods, Young said. About 200 are expected to attend.
Will it make a difference – especially after years of faith-based efforts to curb violence in Jacksonville?
Young said the forum and those that follow hopefully will lead to building generational relationships and dialogue that could help reduce violence in years to come.
“I don’t think anybody expects the next month will be without crime because we had this session,” Young said. “But if people talk and get together, they can work out their problems.”