Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Antioch churches 'fed up' with negative perceptions

Mt. Zion church kicks off teen-based, anti-violence movement at Hickory Hollow Mall event By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD • Staff Writer Tennessean • August 11, 2008 Darrell K. Walker, overseer of children and youth ministries for Mount Zion Baptist Church, says he is "fed up." "We're all fed up," he said. "We're all tired of the perception of our community." So, added Walker, "we decided we're all going to work together to make this change." Walker, whose church has a campus in Antioch, was referring to the negative image the area has acquired in recent years due to crime and youth violence. As a way of overcoming the problem, Mount Zion and other churches are leading a movement called "Fed Up." The movement kicked off last week with Nashville Night Out Against Crime. As part of the annual citywide celebration, Fed Up organizers held a march and a rally. Supporters marched down Bell Road from Lakeshore Christian Church, which is the former Media Play building, to Hickory Hollow Mall carrying banners with anti-violence messages. The march culminated in a rally at the mall that featured live concerts, information booths, giveaways, food vendors and children's activities. A pledge against violence Before the event, Walker said it was estimated that more than 500 teens were planning to take part in the march. The teens passed out nonviolence pledge cards for all teens to sign pledging that they will choose peace over violence. Fed Up is a teen-driven movement, Walker said. It's a movement organized by teens for teens, with the guidance and leadership of adults. The vision began with the Bishop Joseph W. Walker III, pastor of Mt. Zion. The church has held youth rallies in the past, attracting tens of thousands of teens. But this time, it wanted to hold a similar event that would take place in conjunction with Night Out Against Crime. But, said Darrell Walker, his church didn't want to reinvent the wheel. That's why they invited other churches, various government and non-profit agencies, and businesses to join them. Jeremiah Brigham, 12, said the negative reputation of today's teens disturbs him. "It does bother me to say our teens aren't taking an interest in being role models for younger people," he said. "They should be setting an example." Also, said Jeremiah, who attends J.F. Kennedy Middle and is involved in the Fed Up movement, the problem of youth violence is not just in high schools. It's in middle schools. He said the subject of gangs also occasionally comes up. "I hear about it sometimes," he said. Fed Up, the movement Jeremiah said he thought the march was a good way to "let people know violence is wrong," though, and he believes making it a movement is the right approach. "I think it will take two or three more times to get teens to realize violence isn't the way to solve problems," he said. The Rev. Jay Voorhees, pastor of partner Antioch United Methodist Church, said they wanted to focus on building and maintaining relationships with teens and ask, "How does it reflect what Jesus would want this to look like?" The movement, he said, became a "rallying point for building those relationships." The Rev. Anibal Peña, pastor of partner Iglesia Monte Los Olivos, shared Voorhees' sentiments. Outside of their own churches, he said there is nothing on this scale for Hispanic youth. And for Hispanic youth who do not attend church, there is nothing like this. Voorhees said the area is perhaps the most culturally diverse in Davidson County, and there are churches of many denominations. This is also a way to "transcend all of those differences," he said. A way out Walker said the non-faith-based partners agreed that that the faith-based community should be at the center of the movement. But by expanding the network to involve various agencies and community leaders, they could meet teens' physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Voorhees said Hickory Hollow Mall, particularly, has been a supportive partner. Nathan Thomas, the mall's marketing director, said Mt. Zion and the mall have similar goals. For the mall, "providing a safe, enjoyable shopping experience has always been a goal," he said. Also, said Thomas, "we like to have our finger on the pulse of Antioch." For those reasons, "we're happy to partner with Mt. Zion (in) this collaborative effort." The Fed Up movement will continue throughout the year, with workshops and mentoring and tutoring programs for teens. Thomas said the mall is willing to provide space for workshops and seminars. He sees the movement as "a positive voice" for Antioch and one the mall "wants to stand behind." At a time when the Hickory Hollow area is struggling to overcome a negative image, the movement promotes a good image for the area, he said. Walker said he hopes the teens that are involved in the movement will spread the message to their friends. He particularly hopes that gangs will heed the message of the Fed Up movement and decide to turn against violence. Walker said there would be interventions for teens that are involved in gangs and want to separate but are afraid to do it on their own. It's a way of saying, "We're not going to be afraid. We're going to move forward," said Voorhees. The goal, added Walker, is to "change families, change a generation." Photos by M.Schwartz

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