Boston’s Brilliant Idea to cut crime: Treat criminals like real people with real problems




Rev. Jeffrey Brown’s TEDtalk

Tell me what you think?


#BlackSpring Protest in Boston

I’m very, very proud of the young leaders of this movement



CBS Local video

Call for calm in Baltimore must not ignore need for justice

Rev. Jeffrey Brown speaks on urban violence at TED2015


Why Street Memorials are the New Churches

One common move that pastors make in a high-risk youth outreach effort is to try to draw gang members and other troubled youth into their sanctuaries to “save” them.  They do this, not knowing the reputation of their church out in the streets (that’s another post!), and not fully understanding the spirituality of young people at the street level.  If they did, then they would realize the only sustainable outreach ministry is for the faithful to come out of the four walls of their sanctuaries and meet the youth on their turf, and on their terms.  Its a myth for a church leader to say that the streets are “godless” – or that there is a skewed sense of theology coming from the corners.  I’ve often found quite the opposite.  I wrote a piece on street memorials  for ( in which I say that the places where people put teddy bears and candles, notes, T-Shirts and liquor bottles are the new “sanctuaries” for youth who seek to connect with the Spirit of the person who has passed. They are also yearning to connect with something that will help them through their grief and the trauma that triggered it.  It is said that “nature abhors a vacuum”.  So does God.  Street memorials are a critical sign that spirituality is practiced regularly in the streets.  If churches are to make RECAP-type ministry a priority, they must pay attention to this phenomenon. There are youth in the hood who tell tales of being rejected and judged by church members.  But I have walked the streets of Oakland, New Orleans, West Palm Beach and Detroit. I have always been welcome to pray at any memorial where there are young mourners present, despite the fact that they don’t know me.  The key is in being willing to stand with them in the same spirit…

God vs. Gangs: 4 Reasons Why Churches Must Reach High-Risk Youth

As I travel the country, a common question clergy ask is, “Why do I have to engage with high-risk youth?”  That is often followed-up with the statement, “I feel like that is not my (or my congregation’s) ministry (to be out on the streets)”.  I also hear stories of bad experiences and encounters with youth in gangs or dealing drugs – such as a disrespectful attitude at a funeral, or open defiance when lay leaders try to shoo youth from dealing on church property.  Preachers treat the situation of violence like its God vs. Gangs.

It is a dilemma for pastors, many of them working hard at tending their flock and, through God, enhancing the quality of life for their membership.  But, as I maintain, church outreach to high-risk and proven-risk youth is essential for churches, if urban communities want to see an end of the era of violence in their cities.   There are at least 4 big reasons why:

1.  Churches are among the few positive institutions in a city setting.  I recently visited Detroit, a city in receivership, and in a debilitating population spiral.  I saw whole blocks and streets of abandoned and empty lots where houses stood.  But lone standing n the midst of them were church buildings, still active and alive.  When you go into inner-city communities, you will see schools in disrepair, and few community or city-based social organizations (such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Vkubs).  There are plenty of Liquor Stores, Convenience, and Check-Cashing Stores available.  Funeral Homes are still around.  But so are the churches.

2.  Churches are symbols of hope in an area that lacks it.  In communities of color especially, parents fear for the lives of their children, due to random violence, or due to the influences around their neighborhood.  They worry about the messages fed to their children on a daily basis in this consumerist society.  But on a regular basis churches provide a message of hope, with members who seek to live by word and deed a moral and loving lifestyle.

3.  In the minds of Gen X, Milennials and beyond, violence is the number 1 issue affecting their lives and futures.  And gang-involved youth have a disproportionate effect on the tenor of all young people.  You can ask a high school student to name the teaching staff, and they may be able to name a few people beyond who are currently their teachers.  But ask them to name the sets in their neighborhoods and who are their leaders, and the vast majority of them can tell you that with pinpoint accuracy.  For young people 16-24, and for those who are in the 25-35 demographic, they have been raised in a culture of violence.  An informal survey in Boston by a community group asked over 100 youth across the city how many funerals of friends they attended in their high school career.  The average was 9.

4.  Youth need to see that there’s something more powerful than a youth on the block with a gun.  Church groups believe in a power that takes priority over the powers of this world.  A God of the impossible who brings things into the realm of possibility (John 16:33).  The power of life and death lies elsewhere, so believes the faith community, and when we strive to improve our lives with God, the fear of death and destruction cannot rule over us.    It is critical that we see more churches involved with youth and families at highest risk of violence.  It is the one factor, beyond city prescriptions, that can have assured, sustainable effect upon an individual’s life.