By Lynda Jones
This weekend of May 15th and May 16th marks the annual Cease Fire Sabbath initiative from the mayor’s office. The initiative now in its 5th year enlists leaders of the faith community in the City of Milwaukee to preach a common message of peace and non-violence in their weekend services.
On Thursday, May 13, Mayor Barrett invited faith leaders to attend a breakfast and discussion regarding messages of Cease Fire Sabbath and to exchange ideas on how to strengthen partnerships in addressing violence, especially gun violence.
Approximately 50-75 faith based leaders are expected to participate in the program. Mayor Barrett says that this particular weekend has been chosen as the kick-off to the program for a purpose.
“There is a specific reason why this particular weekend has been chosen to kick off this program. It is the weekend right after Mother’s Day, and a few weeks before Memorial Day weekend. Mothers are very influential in the behavior of our young people, and we are trying to connect to that. Also, the weekend falls before Memorial Day, the first holiday weekend of the summer, and the weather starts to warm up.”
The mayor also stated that this program along with police, and community participation has helped the city see a drop in the most violent crimes that often result in homicides. Since a high of 105 in 2007, the homicide rates have steadily dropped to the mid 70’s each year.
Barrett also states, “Cease Fire Sabbath is a critical element in our efforts to galvanize the community in the mission to reduce crime and work for non-violence by inspiring hope and taking action. The most effective work for peace requires engagement of the whole City, including vision and leadership from the faith community. Historically, religious leaders have led the charge for social justice. I believe the same holds true today.”
During Cease Fire Sabbath Weekend, members of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and meeting houses throughout Milwaukee will have the opportunity to discuss how the city can confront violence and fear and work collectively to build peaceful and healthy neighborhoods. The hope is that faith communities will engage in violence prevention activities throughout the weekend and throughout the year.
Over the years a number of faith leaders have made excellent suggestions of ways to get involved in violence prevention activities. Below is a compilation of many ideas that may help all of us to confront violence and build a more peaceful community.
- Hold informational sessions for congregants and neighborhood residents on firearm issues to discuss common beliefs about guns
- Attend monthly community network meetings, held in each police district.
- Make Ceasefire Sabbath and community peace banners to display in your sanctuary or in other parts of your house of worship.
- Engage young children and teens in the Milwaukee Public Library’s summer reading programs: “Be A Super Reader” and “Read Stuff-Win Stuff.” Contact the library at 286-3091. Offer to provide transportation to children who can’t get to their neighborhood libraries.
- Learn about mentoring opportunities for youth, families or individuals in need, including ex-offenders in Milwaukee and organize a team of mentors from your congregation.
- Organize employers from the congregation or other congregations to provide jobs to youth or to reach out to unemployed area residents.
- Host a vigil, a reading or bell ringing that includes the names of gun violence victims in your chapel or sanctuary.
- Study the spiritual teachings as a basis for non-violence.
- Study the problem of gun violence in Milwaukee and Wisconsin and the nation.
- Incorporate prayers or reflections for victims, perpetrators and the families of both into your worship.
- Hold a 12-hour vigil for ending gun violence.
- Create a plan for home safety without the use of firearms.
- Consider the impact of toys, games, TV and movies designed for children and youth. Organize a violent toy turn-in.
- Ask children and youth to write or draw reflections on the importance of non-violence (Hands Without Guns Coloring Book).
- Host a weekend of arts dedicated to the prevention of gun violence.
- Practice forgiveness towards self and others.
- Create a plan of peace for members to use at home, school and work.
- Host a teen discussion session on why many popular movies and songs glamorize or encourage violence. Invite a former gang member/current anti-gang activist to the session for their insight.
- Advocate for local and national policies that would reduce gun violence.
- Host a faith leaders breakfast to invite other congregations to join you in a Cease Fire Sabbath peace ministry.
- Write a note of encouragement and appreciation to a friend or family that has been affected by gun violence.
- Pray for courage and guidance.
Barrett also stated that some assistance is also available for some of the programs, and members from other city departments are available to speak to groups as well. There are also some block grants available, and departments such as the workforce development is a great resource for informational services. The workforce development department and Mayor Barrett also plan to launch his annual ‘Learn and Earn’ program this summer as well. This program that employs area teens also serves as a great deterrent to crime.