MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A coalition of ministers plan on taking their message of non violence to the streets.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is spearheading a program called Operation Take Back with the goal of ending black-on-black crime in Memphis.
The project is expected to get underway in 2016 and will take a different approach to a growing problem.
"Black-on-black crime is something that is rampant in this community," said Rev. Dwight Montgomery, President of the Memphis Chapter SCLC.
Montgomery points to makeshift memorials to victims of violent crimes that line some of Memphis' streets and are an all too common site.
And all too often the dead and the accused aren't even adults.
"In order to reach the young people, we need to first reach the parents," said Rev. Montgomery.
The rising tide of youth violence in Memphis sparked the SCLC and the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association to take their concerns to the streets, going door-to-door and finding out how to change Memphis for the good.
"Coming together, reaching out, reaching to the parents, reaching to the children, reaching to the neighborhoods. We believe that will work toward minimizing crime in the community," said Rev. Montgomery.
Both groups will launch a program in 2016 in church congregations throughout the community called Operation Take Back.
The program has four primary goals:
- organize neighborhood meetings
- organize neighborhood watch groups where they don't already exist
- provide youth with mentors and tutors
- encourage increased church attendance
Leaders admit their biggest challenge is reducing and ultimately eliminating black-on-black crime.
And getting teens to understand all black lives matter not just when it's a case of police brutality.
"Often times, when a black person is abused by a police officer, you know, people get on camera and talk about the fact that "black lives matter." And that's absolutely true, I agree that black lives matter. But that black person who was killed by a black person is a black life that matters," said Rev. Montgomery.
The message of non violence makes perfect sense to 22-year-old Joe Lewis.
Lewis, who recently moved from Michigan to Memphis to start a career in heavy machine operation, believes the first step is learning self-respect.
"Nothing will change unless people change in themselves. And nobody can influence a person like a person can influence themselves," he said.
Stevie Moore, founder of Freedom From Unneccessary Negatives (F.U.N.N.), has experienced the tragedy that comes with violence.
Since his son was murdered in 2003, he has attended more funerals than he can stomach and wonders why the lives of young African-Americans are ending too soon and too violently.
"We have an epidemic in the black community and we don't like to say it. But our children are dying at a disproportionate rate and we won't talk about it," said Moore.
SCLC President Montgomery also said there are plans to include an enrichment and recreation program to get children off the streets and into a meaningful program.