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ANTI-VIOLENCE SUMMIT TO HEAR CONTROVERSIAL BOSTON CLERIC

The Rev. Eugene Rivers, a founding father of faith-based social programs that contributed to a steep drop in homicides in Boston, will come to Buffalo to help combat gang tensions that have fueled the city's skyrocketing murder rate this year.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra today announced that Rivers will be the keynote speaker at a Stop the Violence Summit to be held at 10 a.m. June 28 on the Erie Community College City Campus.

Prompted by the recent rise in inner-city crime, the Giambra administration has invited clergy, heads of youth organizations and community leaders to attend this event.

Less than half way through this year, Buffalo already has had 37 homicides, just one fewer than in all of last year. Of this year's killings, 19 occurred in May.

Rivers, one of several church leaders who formed Boston's Ten-Point Coalition in 1992, has become a national voice for the grass-roots model for collaboration between church and police officials to make a community safer.

Boston's Ten-Point Coalition established a network of churches that work with city officials and police to reach out to youths and provide them with mentors, counseling, drop-in centers and work programs designed to reduce the allure of gangs, the Associated Press has reported.

Key elements of the coalition's plan include:

"Adopt-A-Gang" programs in which clusters of churches organize and evangelize youths involved in gangs and serve as drop-in sanctuaries for troubled youngsters.

Youth evangelists who conduct street-level one-on-one sessions with youths involved in drug trafficking.

Links between suburban and downtown churches, as well as between local churches and community-based health centers.

Missionaries who serve as advocates and ombudsmen for black and Latino juveniles in the courts.

Rape crisis drop-in centers and services for battered women in neighborhood churches.

Neighborhood crime-watch programs within local church neighborhoods.

An aggressive black and Latino curriculum, focusing largely on the struggles of women and poor people.

With a reputation for bluntness, Rivers has become a controversial figure, ruffling more than a few feathers as he takes his message across the nation.

He has criticized Christian conservatives, accusing them of ignoring the inner cities, as well as black political leaders for being "intellectually exhausted," according to national media reports.

"Why are conditions worse for the black poor, 40 years after the civil rights movement, with 8,000 black elected officials?" the Associated Press quoted him as asking.

And he apparently believes many inner-city problems have to be solved from within.

His basic message, according to the Boston Globe: that African-Americans need to rebuild their communities economically and spiritually.

"My endgame is 20 to 30 years, not ambulance chasing for the next black kid shot by a white cop, when the vast majority of black kids are being shot by black kids, and not white cops," he has said.

Rivers also has emphasized that his is not primarily an evangelical movement.

"This movement is concerned with results and not religion per se," he has said. "I'm more interested in keeping a kid alive, than trying to proselytize. God is what inspires us."

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