Bermudian organising million person march on Washington
A march on Washington, DC by a million young people is being organised by Bermudian preacher George Scott Smith, in a demonstration against gangs and school violence.
Mr Smith, who last year moved to Atlanta, Georgia, has maintained a youth mentoring and anti-gang campaign forged by the Island's own surge in shootings.
“I want to make a change, not to sit idly by and watch,” he told The Royal Gazette. “What I've decided to do is compel young people in America to come together.”
Dubbed the M4 initiative, the January 1, 2014 Million Youth Massive Merging Minds Movement aims to highlight pressing social issues to US President Barack Obama by bringing young people and their families to the US capital.
“Right now, America is at a crossroads,” Mr Smith explained. “They need someone to lead them.
“I don't want recognition but I believe I can lead a mass of people. We need to let the Obama administration know that they are in charge and we're not pleased, even though they're doing what they say is their best.
“Right now we've got children afraid to come to school. Security in schools and metal detectors cost money, but they spent $1 billion a day on the war in Iraq.”
With the help of event organisers Wing Seven and the religious group Team Courage, Mr Smith aims to rally young people to Washington for an all-day event on issues affecting young people. He plans also to have gospel singers attend.
Conceding it wouldn't be easy to organise in a matter of months, Mr Smith said he was confident the M4 initiative would nonetheless make a significant impact.
School security is a pressing issue to the man many know simply as Minister Smith — not only because he moved to Atlanta to be with his six-year-old son Christian.
Last month, Mr Smith said, children he'd been mentoring were threatened by a gunman bearing 500 rounds of ammunition, who entered Atlanta's McNair Learning Academy.
The would-be shooter was talked down by a secretary.
Mr Smith met with shocked parents near the standoff, and subsequently spoke about it with Atlanta's Channel Two News.
“People don't understand the power they have inside them,” Mr Smith said.
“With this march, I just decided to do it. The same way Martin Luther King had a dream, I had a vision.
“This idea came straight from my heart — it's always been a thought of mine to go to the White House.”
He added: “I've been in the fire, I got out of the fire, and now I can go back in and pull people out of it. I feel like right now the house is on fire and people are sitting around playing cards.”
Organisers hope to get the family of slain teenager Trayvon Martin to attend the M4 march, he said.
The 17-year-old black student was gunned down in February, 2012 by George Zimmerman — a neighbourhood watch coordinator in a Florida gated community, who was later acquitted by a jury of murder charges.
The killing ignited a fierce nationwide controversy over firearms, racism and racial profiling.
Mr Smith said he hoped Bermudians would also join the march.
“Everything that happens in America eventually happens in Bermuda,” he said. “Our young men want to imitate America. It can work for good as well as bad.”
He identified “black on black gang violence” as another issue that needed to be highlighted — noting that the shootings that inspired him to start talking to gang members were still afflicting the Island.
Mr Smith said he'd been pained by last month's fatal stabbing of 22-year-old Stephen Jireh Iris on The Glebe Road in Devonshire.
“He was a young man that I knew and had mentored,” he said.
Of Bermuda's epidemic of gun violence, he said: “I believe that at this point, we're stuck, because we don't have a plan in place.
“I did my own prison ministry from 2010 to 2012. Gang leaders told me they want the violence to stop, but when it's gone so far it's almost impossible. If you don't forgive, it's almost like there is no other way you can work it out — and that's very hard, but it's not impossible.”