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CAJM Set To Move Forward After Unprecedented Assembly
5/8/2013 2:01:52 PM

Assembly at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church

By Barney Blakeney 

The attendance was impressive - some 2,000 people gathered at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church April 29 for the Charleston Area Justice Ministry’s Nehemiah Action Assembly. At the meeting the organization presented its outline of issues regarding education and criminal violence to local authorities and the public. But while the meeting was well attended and included local law enforcement and education authorities the question remains, “Where do we go from here?”

CAJM grew out of an initiative begun in 2011 after John Calkins of the Miami, Fla.-based Direct Action & Research Training Center, Inc. (DART) approached local clergy members. DART provides training and consultation for some 18 affiliated congregation-based community organizations. It is the fourth largest congregation-based community organization in the U.S.

About a dozen faith communities representing different faiths and denominations came together to form the Charleston Area Interfaith Sponsoring Committee. The new organization eventually grew to include some 20 multicultural diverse faith communities and changed its name to the Charleston Area Justice Ministry.

Since its name change and redefinition of priorities last October, CAJM has focused on two areas - education and crime and violence. At the April 29 meeting, education and law enforcement authorities were asked to respond to concerns in those two areas.

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston is among the founding members of the organization. He said as a result of the April 29 meeting, the most recent of several developmental meetings, a task force has been formed to research data in order to identify and prioritize problems.

That task force which includes local officials, clergy and professionals, will meet in 30 days. Part of its task will be to develop policies that address, is–sues such as juvenile detention.

In Charleston County over 1,700 juveniles were arrested and taken into custody in 2012. Of those, 98 juveniles were arrested for violent or ‘serious’ offenses. Five hundred of those juveniles served time in juvenile detention. Sixty-six percent of juveniles who have been incarcerated never return to school and 82 percent of those who serve time in detention later become incarcerated as adults.

In education, only about 75 percent of high school students graduate on time while four Charleston County high schools have a graduation rate of 50 percent or less, according to CAJM data. Those high schools are fed by elementary schools where less than 50 percent of students meet English Language Arts standards.

Rev. Rivers thinks the organization’s efforts will be successful.

“This is the most diverse, multicultural group ever gathered around justice in this area. We’ve brought criminal justice people and educators to the table working together on policies. That hasn’t been done before. And, we’re focusing on the needs of children. When the product life changes for children, the product life changes for communities,” he said.

CAJM will hold its annual assembly in October. Until then the task force will develop a plan to reduce the number of juveniles placed in detention and monitor authorities who have made commitments to the organization. Organizationally, it will continue to recruit congregations and listen to them through its series of community meetings. 

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