Growing Community Involvement Against Violence

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To the Editor,

Working from the heart is what I as a minister do every day. But the depth and commitment I saw over the weekend from the families, friends and concerned citizens of St. Thomas who marched against gun violence was something special, and it should not pass without remark.

As we observe Victims of Violence and the Jason Carroll Memorial Day on May 23, I will be thinking of the people with whom I stood as Mothers Against Guns Violence sponsored its third Walk/Run Stop Gun Violence. The event raises donations for the Jason Carroll Memorial Fund, which awards scholarships to students at the University of the Virgin Islands. The scholarships honor Jason Carroll, who was 18 when he was killed by gunfire six years ago and whose parents established the scholarship in his memory.

It is impossible to fathom a parent’s pain at losing a child, yet we are all too familiar with the islands’ rise in violent crime. These climbing statistics speak clearly of more guns, more children lost, more damage to the local tourism economy. Most of all they mean more trouble, in our hearts and throughout our islands. We must mobilize to end this cycle.

As a longtime community activist, I believe education and awareness are the two most important measures we can take toward greater safety. For an immediate effect, we also need stricter penalties for those who commit crimes with guns and those who sell and distribute drugs. And we desperately need more cooperation in educating every member of our society — greater collaboration among schools, community organizations and the media, to teach young people and their elders about the dangers of guns. We must find increased funding for schools and community groups that work with youth, to bring that message home. And we must hire more law enforcement officers to improve security in our ports.

One of the most encouraging signs I’ve seen in this fight against gun violence is the growing involvement of community businesses and organizations. Not only are our businesses committing more money; they are actively participating, moved as I am by this cause. The more support our young people receive in financing their education, the more we teach and encourage them to look to the future, the more successful we and they will be in avoiding drugs, crime and firearms.

Cultivating this focus on the future is the best investment we can make in our children. They deserve and need nothing less, because they themselves are our future.

Rev. Toi A. Barbel
Senior Pastor
International Gospel Center of St. Thomas
2006 Democratic Senatorial Candidate