The Rev. Jeffrey Brown has said he learned some of his most important life lessons, not in the “hallowed halls of a seminary,” but from drug dealers, prostitutes and gang members.
Continuing Week Two’s theme, “Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions,” Brown, a pastor and co-founder of Boston TenPoint Coalition, will speak at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 2 in the Amphitheater.
Brown’s work, along with others, led to what The New York Times coined the “Boston Miracle,” a 79% decline in violent crimes involving youths from 1990 to 1999, and a 29-month streak of zero youth homicides.
He now serves as president of RECAP — Rebuilding Every Community Around Peace — working with faith groups and city officials to end gang violence. Additionally, Brown is the co-founder of My City at Peace, where he collaborates with housing authorities to rebuild distressed communities.
For his efforts, Brown was named the 2016-17 Brandeis University Richman Distinguished Fellow in Public Life, citing his “model of social responsibility” which “(ensures) the right of every young person to live in an urban community without violence.”
“As we approached the broader theme of communities working across difference toward solutions to our most-pressing problems, we felt it important to highlight notable case studies, providing those gathered in the Amphitheater with lessons that meaningful change through community building is possible,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “Brown has not only done so through his efforts in the ‘Boston Miracle’ but also in his working with communities through the U.S. on building partnerships between neighborhoods and police departments to end violence and strengthen communities.”
In his 2015 TED Talk, which garnered over 1 million views, Brown said the catalyst for his community work was the murder of Jesse McKie, a 21-year-old student who was attacked by six young men blocks from Brown’s parish.
“There were young people who were killing each other for reasons that I thought were very trivial, like bumping into someone in a high school hallway, and then after school, shooting the person,” he said in his TED Talk. “It got to the point where it started to change the character of the city.”
From there, Brown volunteered at a high school, but quickly realized he wasn’t targeting at-risk youths. Instead, he and a group of clergymen began walking through notoriously dangerous neighborhoods at night, interacting with drug dealers and gang members.
“One of the biggest myths was that these kids were cold and heartless and uncharacteristically bold in their violence,” he said. “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. We stopped looking at them as the problem to be solved, and we started looking at them as partners, as assets, as co-laborers in the struggle to reduce violence in the community.”
The “Boston Miracle” approach has since been replicated in cities across the world, including Louisville, Kentucky; Milwaukee; Rio de Janeiro; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Johannesburg.
“I believe that we can end the era of violence in our cities. I believe that it is possible and that people are doing it even now,” Brown said, concluding his TED Talk. “It can’t just come from folks who are burning themselves out in the community. They need support. Because the old adage that comes from Burundi is right: ‘That you do for me, without me, you do to me.’ ”