2007 Archive

Faith Community Seen As a Key Partner in Criminal and Educational Reform Initiatives

A search for innovative solutions to tough inner-city problems has led two Boalt Hall research centers to go to church—and seek out San Francisco Bay Area faith leaders. In June, the Chief Justice Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity and Diversity and the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice (BCCJ) brought several Bay Area ministers to the law school for a conference aimed at engaging the faith community in efforts to reduce street violence and improve educational outcomes for at-risk youth.

BCCJ Executive Director David Onek, the Rev. Jeffrey Brown of the Boston Ten Point Coalition, and the Rev. Ishmael Burch of San Francisco's St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church led the first session of the one-day conference, which was focused on reducing violence in targeted communities.

Brown has been leading anti-violence efforts in Boston for the past decade by working closely with police officers, academics, community leaders, and ministers. Onek and Burch have launched a similar approach in San Francisco.

"Reverend Brown is a true pioneer in involving the faith community in reducing street violence, and BCCJ is very fortunate to be able to tap into his expertise as we build partnerships in the Bay Area," says Onek.

Onek and Burch reported on the promising results of their work with San Francisco city officials on what they termed a "call-in"—a meeting in which gang leaders and other high-risk probationers were brought before an assembly of community leaders, ministers, case workers, and law enforcement officials.

During the encounter, the probationers heard a clear and consistent message: violence is harming the community and must cease; a broad array of services will be made available for all who want them, with the full support of law enforcement; and those who continue to act violently will be targeted by law enforcement, with full community support. Onek and Burch reported that initial results of the call-in have been promising.

Dean Christopher Edley, Chris Knaus of the UC Berkeley African-American studies department, and Al Kauffman of the Warren Institute led the conference's second session, which was aimed at providing ministers with guidance on urban school issues, such as the high drop-out rate.

A focal point of discussion was the federal "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) and the need to reform the law's accountability systems and requirements—especially its emphasis on raising test scores. "The likely failure of many schools with concentrations of minority students to meet NCLB standards and the consequent sanctions was the greatest concern of the participants," says Kauffman. He also notes that while the NCLB mandates equal access to high-quality teachers for all students, achieving that goal is "a work in slow progress."

Conference participants were urged to educate themselves about California's failure to meet teacher-quality requirements and ways to use NCLB guidelines to improve education in their local schools.

In the end, participants agreed that a close, collaborative alliance between Boalt's research centers and the faith-based community could be a powerful vehicle for positive change.

"This conference brought together community people, advocates, and academics to focus on working together to address community problems," says Dean Edley. "The ministers' willingness to be here is a blessing to us all."