Making A Difference: Stop the Madness Community Summit.
(ThyBlackMan.com) Sitting idly by and watching as our communities crumble has never been the style of The Life Center CDC president Dr. Henry W. Roberts, II. One voice can make a difference, not to mention a mass of community-minded people. Together, there is unity indeed, Roberts agrees. When the Mobile, Alabama pastor heard of a drive-by shooting at a fast food restaurant in the Toulminville community where he was raised, he decided the madness was too much to be silent about. Roberts coordinated an event to bring people together, along with educational tools, resources and places where they can get help, and now, ten years later, The Stop the Madness Community Summit has grown exponentially in its reach and impact.
“People need a positive image and they need to know that someone is concerned,” said Roberts. “You cannot just stick your head in the sand. People need to know there are people who really care.”
The date of that drive-by shooting, which killed two young men, ages 19 and 22, was April 5, 2006. Perhaps even more insidious was the fact that the shooting occurred within eyeshot of a church daycare where children played. Then acting Police Chief Lester Hargrove called the incident “an absolute disregard for human life.”
Roberts knew in his spirit action must be taken. With that, a decision became action and the first Stop the Madness Community Summit was held in May. The community event has grown to encompass a large-scale feeding operation and so much more. Each year, Roberts and his Life Center partners give away around 10,000 pounds of groceries to families in need in Mobile. Also, more than 700 pairs of new shoes are distributed to members of all ages of area communities touched by the event.
“Simply put, if someone has something to eat, they do not have to go and steal something,” Pastor Roberts said. “If they have a new pair of shoes, they do not have to shoplift. God said, “When I was hungry, you fed me.” It is what we are required to do as a church. Simply put, we are doing what Jesus required. We do it because the church needs to be a visible and viable part of the community. We need to be outside of the four walls of the building,” he added. “When we do Stop the Madness, we are being the Kingdom of God at that time.”
The crime rate among youth in Mobile County depicts a disturbing trend, as it does nationally. Regarding the advance of crime among youth in the past several decades—since he was a boy growing up in Toulminville—things have changed, for the worse. “It has progressed,” the local minister noted of the incidence of youth crime. “Everything has elevated and progressed. It is far worse. Our communities are not as safe as they used to be.”
A heightened level of the negative demands a heightened level of positive resistance, Roberts believes.
Overall, Stop the Madness is making great strides across multiple demographic groups in Mobile, Alabama. “It has increased the awareness of community violence, drugs, the dropout rate, and all of the areas we address at Stop the Madness,” Roberts said, indicating that people are paying attention to the need for greater involvement and interaction with local youth and families. “Hopefully, we have reached someone who had the potential of going in the wrong direction.”
Although violent crime across the board is down nationally, the U.S. Department of Justice noted in a recent report on juvenile crime that “there have been consistent predictors for escalations in youth violence.” (Mulford, 2010). The DOJ suggested the following factors as relating to the spike in youth violence. “Explanatory factors for the increase included greater availability, carrying, and use of firearms; increased gang activities; greater prevalence of drug trafficking and open air drug markets; increasing prevalence of divorce and female-headed households; changes in labor market structures; diminishing economic opportunities for those in marginalized communities; and diminished social and monetary support for families living in poverty.” (Mulford, 2010)
Like the DOJ, Roberts recognizes there are many facets behind the problem of youth violence. Areas such as education, housing, family structure, health, drug prevention, teen pregnancy and economic stability are addressed at Stop the Madness.
Entertainment is also always a vital part of the event. Christian rapper Preston Pettway performs annually during Stop the Madness, and has seen fruit manifest from that endeavor. Pettaway is involved first-hand in reaching local youth, as he leads the group, “Crunk for Christ,” and instills in Christian youth that you can indeed be saved and still have a good time. “I would say being a Christian is not boring because being saved is not boring,” said Pettaway. “I use gospel rap music to impact youth, to let them know that it is okay to be “Crunk for Christ!”
Additionally, community resource booths are an important aspect of The Stop the Madness Community Summit. The Boys and Girls Club, Salvation Army, local fraternities and sororities, the YWCA, Mobile County Health Department, the Women’s Resource Center, the Mobile Area Education Association, Sybil Smith Family Village and others have participated in making the event the successful outreach that it is. Free resources, including HIV testing, information on jobs, assistance programs, and more has been distributed in large quantities to those who participate.
Roberts received the FBI’s prestigious Director’s Community Leadership Award in 2009 for work, in part, relating to the Stop the Madness Community Summit. “He has been described as having an impeccable work ethic and integrity. His spirit of excellence is evident in every facet of his ministry and community outreach initiatives,” the FBI said of Roberts in an article relating to the award.
The local community advocate would be the first to tell you that it takes a vast team of dedicated people to make the effort what is has become. Volunteers from Roberts’ church, Word of Life Community Church of Chickasaw, Alabama, along with numerous other men, women and teens from local churches, organizations, agencies, and individuals simply focused on serving, come together to minister, not only in word, but in deed.
So, what advice or words of wisdom would Roberts give to a young person struggling to make positive choices in life—words that would translate into a message of hope? “I would tell them that there is a way out and that there is a hope and a future,” he said.
To learn more about Stop the Madness, or to gain insight into conducting a similar event in your community, city or neighborhood, contact Roberts at (251) 456-2652 or write to him at
The Life Center,
351 South Craft Highway,
Chickasaw, Alabama 36611.
Written By Kim Henderson