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What happened to the anti-gang community groups?

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Jahma Gibbons believed he could make a big difference to Bermuda's gun violence problem when he formed the Facebook group Stand Up Bermuda earlier this year.

The reformed gang banger launched the initiative on the social networking site in April in order to join with like-minded citizens and tackle the “shooting, drugs and just the day-to-day crime that is plaguing our beautiful island”.

Within five days, more than 450 people signed up to get involved and six people volunteered to become members of an executive committee.

If you visit the Facebook page today, you'll still see about 2,400 members yet Stand Up Bermuda is basically defunct.

The group fell apart amid bitter infighting less than a month after it formed and Mr Gibbons is now grappling with too many problems of his own to devote any time to it.

The 34-year-old, of Pembroke, recently moved back to the Island and can't find work, meaning he's struggling to make ends meet or provide for his two young daughters, aged 11 and five.

He told

The Royal Gazette: “It's still operating but, right now, Stand Up Bermuda has been kind of put on hold.

“I have come back to Bermuda. I was trying to find a job, trying to get myself together. I can't seem to get any help at all. It seems like the people who are trying to help out, especially people like me who have been in a gang and are trying to give back, I can't get help myself.”

Mr Gibbons said he'd found it impossible to find gainful employment or get any aid from the Department of Financial Assistance.

“I have been to Financial Assistance with my birth certificate, my passport. They said I had nothing to prove I'm Bermudian, so they can't help me.

“To me, it's really hurtful. I have put myself on the line as far as speaking out against gang violence. People were threatening my life. But I can't get any help from my own country.”

He said Stand Up Bermuda was “basically having to take a back seat because I can't seem to get the support that I need for my personal life”.

Mr Gibbons added: “I used to be in a gang. I have done everything I can to change my life from that but it's pushing me to go back into that life because I have to survive. And then they wonder why our young people are doing the things they are doing.”

When Stand Up Bermuda splintered in May, after leaders disagreed about a Bermuda Day float in memory of murder victims, another Facebook group was formed by ex-members.

Together For Bermuda (TFB) described itself as a “committed group of concerned individuals who seek, through spirituality, to guide, encourage, empower, and assist members of our community”.

The group has 1,366 online members yet little has been heard about it since its inception, when it pledged to plan a separate peace march from one Stand Up Bermuda was organising.

Founding member Shawnette Somner told this newspaper TFB was “still in existence, pretty much”.

But she said it had evolved into an online discussion group and had not organised any activities.

“I think right now it probably will remain a discussion group,” the mother-of-two said. “The members still communicate. We are all friends. People kind of have other things that are going on in their lives.

“Right now, a few of the members are very heavily involved in politics. That's where the bulk of their time is going right now. We all still have discussions and stay in regular contact with one another.”

The 49-year-old principal of Star Academy home school said there were many “good, well-meaning citizens” in Bermuda who wanted to effect change but came up against “red tape or bureaucracy” when they tried.

“Therein lies the obstacle,” she said.

She added: “I think what happened with us is when the rift took place between us and Jahma Gibbons, I think some members of the public just saw it as 'this is just another group'.

“We had quite a few events lined up but I think to be honest, I think the coverage of that story, people were left feeling like 'this is another group'. I think people just lost interest.”

Another anti-violence group which has largely fallen off the media radar is Rise Above Bermuda, formed in December 2009 by educator Lou Matthews and brothers Wayne, Dwayne and Travis Caines.

Dr Matthews said the group was still in existence and had more than fulfilled its initial aim of galvanising the community into action.

“Rise Above does exist, though not in the sense of a traditional organisation,” he said. “For the most part, Rise Above Bermuda has transitioned its activities to that of community support and advisory. Many of us have jobs that already require a lot from us.

“It's not important at all for us to be in the limelight. Our jobs take us there so much. It's better just to be about the work.”

He said the group was never meant to be around for the long-term but was “always a call to action”.

“As you know, in 2009 we launched a successful campaign to arouse people and groups to action in order to confront the new era of gun violence. We issued a call to action for 30 core actions in 30 days.

“In short, we completed more than the 30 actions, with several new actions cropping up and several extending well beyond the call to action period.”

Dr Matthews said mentoring groups at Dellwood Middle School and Victor Scott Primary School had lasted for more than a year and other initiatives were ongoing, such as church GED programmes.

“The way we saw ourselves was to help empower groups and people and it's just morphed into something bigger and more general.”

He added there was no “magic pill” to solve the Island's gun and gang problem but that everyone could play their part to help. “You can't sustain public attention but you can sustain genuine action.”

Another organisation which formed in 2009 to promote community unity is still very much in operation and won an award this year for its efforts.

One Community Unified, a collaboration of churches, police and other organisations, picked up the CableVision community service award for the first quarter of 2011, plus a $5,000 donation.

The Rev Nick Dill, the priest in charge of the Anglican Parish of Pembroke, said active participation in One Community Unified was “not as broad as at the beginning”.

But he added: “The will to work together is very strong and the need great. We are involved in the local community and at Victor Scott School on a weekly basis and hold events during the year where the larger community can come together.

“During the summer we held SOS, summer opportunity seminars, on issues that the community highlighted were of concern after surveys were carried out.”

The clergyman said the group offered a free evening meal at St Augustine's church on a Wednesday night, regularly attended by between 60 and 100 people.

“It is interesting that the majority of those who come are children and young men. We have begun to gain trust and to dialogue with these guys.

“Conversations often turn to the complexities of life during the economic downturn, but also we are seeing a lot of hopelessness and yet a desire for change.

“Each week a team from the churches and Young Life run an after-school club which builds relationships and gives positive input into the children's lives.”

One Community Unified has also partnered with a youth outreach and empowerment organisation led by Pastor Jonathan Lambe, called Kingdom Reigns Ministries, and recently held events over the Hallowe'en weekend.

Mr Dill said: “What we feel is needed is consistent, sustainable, practical support, all undergirded by prayer and a real presence in the community, to build hope and confidence in people and to help show and point people to a different path.

“Is it successful? No idea as yet, but it is something we can do, are called to do and, God willing, will continue to do until we see peace in the streets and hope in the home.”

Useful websites: http://riseabovebermuda.org, www.facebook.com.

ends

Photo by Tamell Simons Jahma Gibbons, who was trying to stop gang violence with his group Stand Up Bermuda, says he?s had to put the initiative on hold while he searches for work and tries to survive financially.
Photo by Tamell Simons Jahma Gibbons, who was trying to stop gang violence with his group Stand Up Bermuda, says he?s had to put the initiative on hold while he searches for work and tries to survive financially.

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Published December 06, 2011 at 12:00 pm (Updated December 06, 2011 at 12:42 pm)

What happened to the anti-gang community groups?

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