- The Washington Times - Friday, May 15, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

On April 26, the D.C. region commemorated Take a Brother to Worship Day at faith-based institutions.This initiative began in Chicago as a part of the Black Star Project’s Million Father Movement to partner with a dynamic force in the black community - the black church.

Black churches, mosques, temples and synagogues from across the country worked together on Take a Black Male to Worship Day on Sunday, March 1, for all services that day.

In the District, Returning Citizens United Inc., an advocacy group for the formerly incarcerated, spearheaded this effort in a push to redirect many at-risk youths and adult men from self-destructive behaviors to positive self-directed behaviors.

“Spirituality is very important,” said Returning Citizens representative Yango Sawyer. “What we have found is that, while incarcerated, the brothers will embrace the concept to maintain their sanity while serving their sentence. But once they come home they put the book, be it a Bible, holy Koran, etc., on the shelf.



“If it will help them to grow spiritually in prison and maintain their sanity, staying on this course upon re-entering the community will help them to stay free and reduce the rate of recidivism, which is a goal for public safety,” he said.

Each year, more than 2,500 adults are released from prison and return to communities in the D.C. region. The lack of positive relationships and support services can lead to relapses of drug use and criminal behavior, which can lead to reincarceration, and risky behavior that can result in HIV/AIDS infection, an existing epidemic in the District.

The special worship-day initiative brought faith-based institutions together to welcome some of these returning citizens and to take a closer look at what’s happening with these men and at-risk youths.

It’s not about forcing a religion on anyone, supporters said, but making a spiritual connection and allowing them to make a choice.

Returning Citizens United is encouraging faith-based institutions to be more involved as these formerly incarcerated males commit themselves to improve their work and life skills; acquire more education; become role models for their children; support their children academically, spiritually and emotionally; dedicate themselves to their family in tangible ways; build, clean and maintain their communities; and develop economic resources.

Several houses of worship and other organizations participated in the recent event. The federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) embraced the initiative and charged its staff, partners and congregations to reach out and bring one of these men to worship services.

The Rev. Phillip L. Pointer of Providence St. John Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro pointed out to members of his congregation that “they need to acknowledge that this problem is in our own families, that we all need support to address it, so their participation is important for themselves and the community.”

The Rev. Henry A. Gaston of Johnson Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast said, “I believe that we had a great Take a Brother to Worship Day and Johnson Memorial will continue the movement.”

• Debra G. Rowe, a native Washingtonian, is a returning citizen. She holds a master’s degree in human services and is a certified correctional health care professional. She is program director for Returning Citizens United Inc.

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