Newburgh - Developing a think tank. Seeing the importance of collaboration. Making a difference.
These were just some of the messages Pastor John Lewis brought to 280 Broadway in the City of Newburgh on Friday night. Lewis, who leads the Life Center Ministries, located in New Haven, Connecticut was brought to Newburgh by Pastor Tamara Stewart after the two met in Georgia. Here they discussed a common bond: the inexplicably rising violence in their two communities, New Haven and Newburgh.
"I knew right away I wanted to bring him here to Newburgh to help out," reflected Stewart. "He caught my mind and my heart with the way he was able to talk to the people and not preach to them."
That power of talking has been an outgrowth of Lewis’ past. As a youth, he left home at age 16 and was stealing cars, pimping women and doing drugs on a regular basis. Seeing people, many of them friends, shot before his own eyes, Lewis is well versed in the ways of the streets, violence and redemption.
"God spared my life for a reason," said Lewis to a room of local church officials and politicians. "I am here for a very real reason; there is no way we should have murder, rape and violence in a community that has so many churches; this is a call for help."
Lewis is hopeful that assistance will be spearheaded by the missing link - collaboration. Although he was quick to cite individual success stories regarding offsetting crime and guiding youth, the gist of his message focused on unity.
"The community needs to regain the trust from its leaders here in the City of Newburgh; it’s only then that we can begin to bring back hope," stressed Lewis. "The only way this can happen is through collaboration of different parts of the community: police, educators, church officials, and politicians; the world is a dark place, and now is a call to arms."
After discussing some general problems he sees amongst youth all over the country, including poor environment, absent role models, and a media laden with cursing, violence and sex, Lewis asked those present to delineate specifics concerns in the City of Newburgh. The list mounted as the hands went up: lack of jobs, too much idle time, limited proper housing, poverty, one of the highest high school dropout rates in the state and the trend of multi-generational parolees.
Many present offered some explanations for the rapid downturn the City has been experiencing.
"We lost our sense of family somewhere along the way," said Councilman Curlie Dillard. "Without the church we cannot resolve any of these issues."
Lewis himself added more troubleshooting.
"Rap and video games have a huge effect on kids," said Lewis. "If no one else is willing to do it, then the church needs to step in and hold these rap artists and the video games industry accountable."
Still another attendee insisted there is no more time left for excuses.
"It’s time," she resounded. "We need to all come together with our unique gifts, be positive and do what’s necessary to change things."
The night’s discussion was the first of two weekend events aimed at some answers. The second came Saturday night when a Street Walk, led by Lewis, and accompanied by plenty of prayer took place in the City of Newburgh. Lewis, along with all those involved Friday and Saturday nights, are intent upon the weekend’s actions only serving as a beginning.
"We ultimately want a commitment from all those involved, especially the leaders," said Lewis. "We want something put into action to help these young people, while reducing all of the negative things happening, and we want it to be ongoing."