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PULLING NO PUNCHES

Buffalo will be able to combat youth violence effectively if it uses an agenda devoted solely to "measurable outcome and not egos," the Rev. Eugene Rivers said during a summit on violence Thursday.

"This work will be done by people who want to work, but not by people caught up in titles," said Rivers, who helped turn around Boston's skyrocketing murder rate with a faith-based network of social programs. "What is needed is people of good will."

Rivers was the keynote speaker of the Stop the Violence Youth Summit at Erie Community College City Campus.

About 200 elected officials, community activists, heads of community-based organizations and religious leaders turned out to hear about Rivers' Ten-Point Coalition. The program created an unconventional collaboration of 47 churches that work closely with state and local officials and law enforcement officers in implementing programs and opportunities to reach out to youths.

The program, which started in 1992, includes providing youths with mentors, counseling, drop-in centers and work programs designed to reduce the allure of gangs.

Throughout the day, Rivers, who doesn't mince words, delivered sermon-style presentations to officials and area youths at different forums.

Senior Erie County Executive Assistant Warren Galloway said the youth program was for the "non-goody-two-shoes."

"We were reaching out for kids 'from the hood,' " Galloway said. "(Rivers) is straight up and doesn't hold back any punches."

The program's success and recent slayings in Buffalo prompted County Executive Joel A. Giambra to invite Rivers to the city to rev up religious and community leaders to work together and create a similar effort in Buffalo.

The city has had 38 homicides this year -- one fewer than the total for all of 2000 -- and May's 19 killings were the most of any month in the city's history.

"Buffalo, you have the opportunity to create a new model," Rivers said.

He said he saw something in Buffalo that he sees in few cities: devoted and dedicated elected officials.

Pointing to Giambra's invitation and Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's planned trip to Boston next month, Rivers said, "The political leaders here are concerned."

The support and concern of elected officials is a sure sign that the program can be replicated in Buffalo, said Rivers.

But other sectors of the community have to play an active role, especially church leaders, he added.

"The black church is the only institution that we've got," he said. "Besides that, we've got the crack houses."

Rivers said one problem is the "hip-hop nation," which posed a "major challenge" to the effectiveness of faith-based groups and churches. He said many youths internalized the negative messages in certain hip-hop songs and view life as a rap video.

Giambra and other leaders said they accepted Rivers' challenge to be accountable and responsible for the community.

"This administration is committed, and I say we should rise to that challenge," the county executive said.

Masiello said that the will and desire in the city and Rivers' presence will serve as the catalyst to get Buffalo's program off the ground.

"We have programs here, but they need significant fine tuning," he said. "By going to (Boston), we will be able to get firsthand exposure of their successful model so we can replicate it here."

Rivers said it took five to seven years to build strong relationships with a cross-section of the community in Boston.

"A problem that didn't begin last night will not be solved tomorrow," he said. "It takes time, but I'm optimistic."

The Rev. Matthew Brown, pastor of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ, who has been working closely with Rivers, will work to organize the program in Buffalo. He said the program can be successful here because it aims to bring together all segments of the community and benefit everyone involved.

"Western New York is rich in resources but poor in collaborative efforts," Brown said.

Rivers said he will continue to visit the city, as leaders work to implement the program.

"This was not a gig, where I came here to do a hit," Rivers said. "We will systematically follow through."

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