By Greg Jackson, Esq.
I know that what I am about to say is going to be difficult for some people to accept; especially since I am an active member of one of the oldest and most engaged churches in Apopka. But understanding the current climate with the increase in violent crimes, I have come to the conclusion that folks should not look to churches to reduce the prevalence of violence in the community.
If you drive through the area known as "South Apopka," you will notice that it is saturated with churches, however, violent crimes continue to plague residents. Even when church leaders come out with news cameras, prayer vigils, social media posts and the like, it appears that they are unable to reach the community or provide any answers, because the violence continues. "Why is that?," you may be asking. It is because churches are being asked to stop violence without actually identifying or knowing the causes of violence.
Recently, a good friend of mine who is the pastor of a 700-member congregation and travels the world giving business training to churches to help create greater Christian-based business opportunities, passed on a very interesting book to me - The Locust Effect. In it the authors, Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, address "why the end of poverty requires the end of violence." I found this particularly interesting because months earlier, before I knew anything about The Locust Effect, while at a meeting in South Apopka to address the increasing violence that resulted in the shooting deaths of young people in the community, I spoke on the causes of violence. Based on my experience and research, I announced to the attendees, most of whom were pastors, that the root causes of violence in a community such as Apopka are poverty and lack of economic opportunities or development. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to serve as legal advisor to the Apopka Taskforce on Violence where I began to express how redevelopment and public/private partnerships could be used to address the root causes of violence by increasing opportunities for small businesses to grow and employ residents.
Consequently, the solutions that churches come up with, i.e., the prayer vigils, social media posts,, stop-the-violence symposiums, etc., don't even scratch the surface on how to purposefully address the causes of violence. In fact, consistently the one thing missing from the table when I attend these meetings or see these posts pertaining to violence is the involvement of business leaders, educational leaders and corporate stakeholders who can help develop strategies and solutions on how to bring jobs and economic opportunities to a community. I do, however, believe that churches have a place as a part of a multidisciplinary-community effort to address violence. That role is the facilitation of the healing process needed to help people cope with the impact of senseless crimes. I do not believe, however, that churches are equipped with the tools, and should not be expected, to develop the solutions necessary to truly combat the root causes of violence.
Some may internalize my words and inaccurately believe this is a repudiation of churches, however, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a call to action to businesses and government to become an active participant in the efforts to reduce violence by exploring public/private partnerships to create redevelopment and job opportunities. Believe it or not, Apopka's government and business leaders are well-equipped to develop and provide the solutions needed to help address the increase in violence. In the future, I plan on explaining community redevelopment agencies and how funding from such agencies may ignite the economic engine of Apopka's underserved areas. This I believe will place Apopka on a path to properly address violence in the community
Greg Jackson is a past Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.
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