In August of 1999, pastors from twenty churches in the area met with Police Chief Charles Ramsey and other high-ranking officers to discuss how the clergy might work with the police to reduce the critically high number of homicides among S.E. youth. That dialogue initiated a police/clergy rapport that laid the foundation for a partnership aimed at steering young people away from crime and toward stable and productive lifestyles. The genesis of this effort at police-clergy teamwork stemmed from conversations between Police Chief Ramsey and Reverend Anthony Motley. Rev. Motely was then the President of Inner Thoughts, a S.E. community organization dedicated to a form of street level ministry which had been offering positive alternatives to at-risk youth since 1981.
Chief Ramsey, who held office from 1998-2007, had overseen enforcement efforts that had resulted in lowering overall crime rates, was at that time seeking measures specifically targeted to youth crimes. Rev. Motley suggested to him that a successful initiative should include strong church involvement and as a result agreed to lead an effort to organize area clergy around the issue. In the early discussions, Chief Ramsey and Rev. Motley considered how DC might replicate a police/clergy collaboration which had successfully and dramatically reduced youth crime in Boston, known as the “10 Point Plan”. The Boston program was presented to the group of clergy, was well received and later tailored to the S.E. environment to become 7 points.
From its inception, the East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership (ERCPCP) struck a nerve and was immediately seen as the true hope for repair of a discouraged community. It rapidly grew in membership and quickly attracted support and resources. At the outset, Chief Ramsey devoted police resources and allowed use of Camp Brown for a retreat to obtain youth input. Based on the youth’s recommendations, the group enlisted the assistance of community social service providers.
Rev. Motley then sought the support of the Enterprise Foundation, which was asked to take the lead in linking services to the youth and their families. Additionally, each participating organization was asked to officially sign a Memorandum of Understanding and commit to being responsible for coordinating activities to implement at least one of the points of the plan. The 7 points were as follows:
1. Connecting Services to Youth and Families
2. Removing the Fear Factor
3. Collaboration with the Criminal Justice System
4. Strengthening the Value System of Youth
5. Youth Spiritual Development
6. Grief and Counseling Support
7. Stabilization, Independence and Productivity
Thus, in December 1999, was born a partnership between the clergy, police and the community to repair a neighborhood long plagued by crime, poverty and disenfranchisement which sat right in the backyard of our Nation’s Capitol.
A Youth Anti-Violence Collaboration
In February of 2000, the partnership held its first event: “Truce 2000". The organization called for an end to shootings and retaliations between local gangs and brought together gang leaders who agreed to work out their differences in a peaceful manner. Due to the major press coverage, the effort caught the eye of Public/Private Ventures and its sponsor, Ford Foundation. In March of 2000, the clergy were called together to meet with them to discuss the possibility of obtaining funding for the partnership.
At that time, the Ford Foundation had supported replications of the Boston 10 Point Plan in a number of cities by funneling their funds through Public/Private Ventures. They decided to further expand the model into Washington, DC with ERCPCP, but required that the organization have an Executive Director who was not an active Pastor in order to ensure that the person devote full time to development of the collaboration.
Therefore, the police and clergy met in April 2000 and selected Reverend Donald Isaac, who was Assistant Pastor of S.E. Tabernacle Baptist Church, a member church that had joined the partnership in February. Rev. Isaac was an ideal candidate as a minister of a local church who had more than 20 years experience in management and organizational development and was well versed in local issues as the former Chief Financial Officer of the Council of the District of Columbia. In May of 2000, Rev. Motley and Rev. Isaac visited Boston to examine their program and in June he started as the Executive Director.
Around the same time, the collaboration obtained a grant from the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Public Safety based upon its innovative approach in the area of community policing and public safety as a result of the effectiveness of Truce 2000. With this funding, the organization realized the need to become a formally established entity and as such formed a 501(c)(3) by October 2000.
By the close of 2000, the collaboration was a formal faith-based partnership viewed as a viable solution to the issue of youth violence. It had established a 15 member Board of Directors and a broad based Steering Committee which was created as an advisory body which would meet monthly. Rev. Motley served as the initial Chairperson. At the Steering Committee meetings, where attendance ranged from 30-50 persons, reports were provided to the community which updated them as to the goals accomplished and activities for each point under the 7-point plan.
ERCPCP moved quickly to offer direct services with regularly scheduled on-the-street interventions, youth peer counseling sessions, positive festivals/concerts, youth retreats, sporting events, prayer vigils, and informational forums/roundtables. In the true spirit of collaboration, ERCPCP began making mini grants ranging from $1,000 - 5,000 to fund area programs that furthered the 7 points. .
In June 2001, ERCPCP launched the “40 days of Increased Peace” project, its first initiative with city-wide impact. This consisted of a well-publicized series of positive activities offered as alternatives to violent or negative behavior. These events were supported by the WPGC radio station, which played an active role in its success. After just 2 years of existence, the organization could document the effect of its efforts on youth crime. Police statistics demonstrated a significant downward trend in youth homicides. In one year, homicides had gone from 13 to 2 for those under the age of 18.
Providing Services in the Schools and Community
By 2002, ERCPCP began operating violence prevention programs in Ballou Senior High School and a few years later began running that high school’s in-school suspension program. One of ERCPCP’s most successful school programs was launched in Spring of 2004 when it presented the Girl Talk Conference – an all day forum for girls only. Based on it’s popularity, the male students of Ballou requested a conference of their own. Thus, in the following year the Man 2 Man annual conference was conceived. These conferences have been hosting over 10 workshops with attendances exceeding 100 students per conference.
As of 2003, ERCPCP increased its services to the community by taking the lead in the Faith-Based Reentry Collaborative and thru that collaborative it coordinates services to the Benning Terrace; Woodland Terrace, and Washington Highlands public housing communities. As a result of ERCPCP’s efforts, in 2005 Benning Terrace was chosen as one of six pilot sites for the Learning Communities Initiative, a national program to increase the number of low-income youth who pursue post-secondary education. Another primary role that ERCPCP has played in serving community youth has been to act as convener of the Violence Intervention Partnership in addition to serving as one of the lead organizations of the City-wide Coordinating Council on Youth Violence Prevention.
Moving into Re-entry Services
Also in 2002, ERCPCP expanded its mission from serving youth to serving the needs of the previously incarcerated, as they had been returning home to SE in high numbers. The probation and parole agency for the District of Columbia, Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency (CSOSA), designated ERCPCP as a lead agency to monitor and coordinate other faith-based organizations which offered services to previously incarcerated residents east of the River.
As a result of administered a Ready4Work grant (2003-2006) from the Department of Labor, in which participants were successfully hired into many non-traditional jobs. ERCPCP was recognized as one of the top five sites around the nation due to its job placement rate. Upon the conclusion of the Ready4Work program, ERCPCP began operating the Ready2Work program, a job preparation program targeted to youth.
In 2009, ERCPCP moved into another phase of its growth as an umbrella organization when it secured a large multi-year contract from the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Under this contract ERCPCP is to serve as the lead entity coordinating other organization’s services to youth leaving incarceration and returning to the community.
Advancing into Housing
In response to a serious shortage of affordable housing in the District of Columbia, ERCPCP decided to expand its services into providing housing that would be affordable for ex-offenders as a means of moving them into self-sufficiency and independence. To that end, in August of 2003, ERCPCP established another non-profit corporation for the sake of purchasing property to be operated as transitional housing.
The new corporation represented a partnership between ERCPCP and Johnson Memorial Baptist Church (JMBC), a member church which made a substantial financial contribution toward the purchase of 4115 1st Street, SE. With bank financing and funds from the city and Enterprise Community Partners, the new entity purchased and renovated the property. By February of 2007, ERCPCP completed the renovations and began providing housing under a contract with CSOSA for their program participants.
In light of the success of the 4115 First Street SE development, ERCPCP decided to undertake the development of other special needs housing and began managing several scattered site units. In July 2007, ERCPCP was certified as a non-profit affordable housing developer under the Site Acquisition Funding Initiative (SAFI) of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development.
Staying True to its Mission
In sum, the formative years of this organization were marked by a dramatic level of success because the East of the River police, clergy and community were staunchly committed to building a collaboration – the most of organizations to sustain. Given these ambitious beginnings, there has been much to suggest that this organization can continue to make a powerful impact in “reclaiming a generation, one child at a time”.