How preachers cut violence — by not preaching

Rev. Jeffrey Brown seen here in 2012 with local political leaders.
Rev. Jeffrey Brown seen here in 2012 with local political leaders. –Bill Greene/The Boston Globe

In a new TED Talk, Rev. Jeffery Brown says Boston preachers helped cut youth violence in the city by 79 percent.

“We decided to listen and not preach,’’ says Brown, a Baptist minister.

In the talk, he says he and fellow religious leaders took to the streets at night to engage people involved in crime and understand the conditions that led them to it. An excerpt from his talk:

“When you think about decades of failed housing policies and poor educational structures, when you think about persistent unemployment and underemployment in a community, when you think about poor healthcare, and then you throw drugs into the mix and duffel bags full of guns, little wonder that you would see this culture of violence emerge. And then the response that comes from the state is more cops and more suppression of hot spots. It’s all connected, and one of the wonderful things that we’ve been able to do is to be able to show the value of partnering together — community, law enforcement, private sector, the city — in order to reduce violence.’’

Brown founded the Boston TenPoint Coalition in 1992. It was inspired by ministers’ outrage after a gang shooting and stabbing spilled over into a funeral service at a Mattapan church.

Their mission included “street-level work’’ with drug dealers and gang leaders, providing mediators to juveniles, and developing economic alternatives to drugs.

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Their legacy became known as the Boston Miracle.. From 1990 to 1999, homicides in the city dropped from 152 to 31.

For Brown, the lesson is simple: People need to understand each other’s needs, instead of pitting them against one another. He said:

“One of the biggest myths was that these kids were cold and heartless and uncharacteristically bold in their violence. What we found out was the exact opposite. Most of the young people who were out there on the streets are just trying to make it on the streets. And we also found out that some of the most intelligent and creative and magnificent and wise people that we’ve ever met were on the street, engaged in a struggle. And I know some of them call it survival, but I call them overcomers, because when you’re in the conditions that they’re in, to be able to live every day is an accomplishment of overcoming.’’

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