Preacher offers answers to island’s ills
In addressing the island’s ills, the Reverend Jeffrey Brown believes the answers are best found, not by the leaders, but by those most affected.
One of the key players of “the Boston Miracle” — an event which saw the American city’s violent crime reduced by 79 per cent — he will be in Bermuda to shed light on the solutions that can bring peace to a community.
“I’ll be able to share some of the work that I’ve done over the years, not only in violence reduction work, but also in bringing disparate communities together,” Mr Brown said.
“To address what have been perceived as intractable issues, if the community comes together in the right way, they are issues that can be overcome.”
He will speak on Friday as part of Benedict Associates Ltd’s inaugural Entrepreneurial Leadership Summit at the Hamilton Princess.
Mr Brown is especially looking forward to hearing from Bermuda’s young people.
“I’ll be listening to their concerns about their community and the struggles that they have gone through and to talk about their ideas of how to overcome some of the issues that they’re facing,” he said.
“One of the things that I’ve learnt over the years is that when it comes to violence, young people are very creative in what solutions can be employed in order to deal with those issues and bring the community to heal.
“We just need the courage to be able to listen rather than preach — I can say that since I’m a Baptist minister — to really try to find ways to take impossible situations and bring them into the realm of possibility.”
Mr Brown will share how he reduced violence in Boston with the help of community groups, law enforcement and existing political structures. The experience allowed him to identify the factors of collaboration which he believes led to their success.
“I didn’t start off like this,” said the 56-year-old, who became a pastor at 25.
“I had started doing funerals. These weren’t just for folks who were 80 or 90 years old, I started doing funerals for teenagers. When the violence started to escalate, it became very clear that preaching was not enough, building programmes in my church was not enough.
“A couple of young people got killed and one of them got killed about 100 yards from my church. When I found out that he was running in the direction of the church, it really struck me because, if he had gotten to the church, nobody would have been there. It was closed; the lights were out; nobody was home.”
The paradox was not lost on the young pastor.
“I was really trying to reach out and bring healing to the community, but there were members of the community that I hadn’t touched or even considered touching.
“By going out and building relationships with gang-involved youths, drug dealers, anybody who was out in the streets, it really changed my perspective as to what community really means and how we need to move forward in order to bring real change.”
He was then at Union Baptist Church, where he served as pastor for more than 20 years.
“As a young pastor, I thought it was appropriate for me to be put there,” he said. “They were around my age, they were of my own generation, but the gulf that was between us was vast. It didn’t take me long to realise that I did as much to dig that gulf as they did.”
Mr Brown made it his goal to “minister in a way that would change directions for the young people”.
“I had colleagues that shared my vision and we started an organisation and recruited more pastors and more churches into what we were doing and the result was a 79 per cent reduction of violent crime in the city and then 29 months in which we had zero juvenile homicides.”
The key was “learning how to listen and listen well” and also coming together as a group to decide “what would a good community look like”.
“In my profession, we do a lot of preaching,” laughed Mr Brown, whose book, The Courage to Listen, will be released this year. “Part of leading is learning how to listen well and to understand that the only way that we’re going to be able to make a difference is by doing it together.
“The young people that I was working with are some of the most creative, intelligent, insightful and wise people that I’ve ever met.
“I would not have come to that realisation if I didn’t start listening and understanding some of the things that they’re facing and really seeing parts of my community that I had ignored.
“Just because a person is poor or struggling doesn’t mean that they are not brilliant.”
Tickets for the Entrepreneurial Leadership Summit are $395 and available at ptix.bm
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