A coalition of groups from across the city is formulating an ambitious program to combat gang and gun violence in Harlem.
If organizers have their way, Uptown will host a never before seen event — Hands Across Harlem, a human chain stretching along 125th St. from Second Ave. to Broadway.
Bill Henry, chairman of the New York Support Group for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change and one of the event planners, said Hands Across Harlem is intended to “galvanize community activists to address the issue of violence in Harlem neighborhoods.
“We want to mobilize and energize members of the Harlem Community to confront the challenges and concerns of the violence plaguing the community,” Henry said. “We need to identify what this force is, and, though we know we can’t put an end to it, we can try to have some sort of impact that will reduce it.
“This is a multicultural movement, one that transcends religion, class, everything,” Henry said. “We have Quaker, Jewish, Christian and Islamic members in the coalition.
“It’s ambitious, but you set expectations high and if you fall short, you still made more progress than you had when you started out.”
Henry said groups already involved in the program include Riverside Church, Urban Visions Project on Non-Violence Inc., The Ghetto Brothers Street Warriors Turned Peacekeepers, Harlem Mothers To SAVE (Stop Another Violent End), The New York Archdioceses Office of Black Ministry, several Harlem tenant associations, and representatives from Occupy Wall Street, which has pledged to have at least 200 members in the chain.
And it’s still growing.
“We’re reaching out to faith-based, community, tenant and other organization which have similar missions as ours,” Henry said .
The groups have been meeting the last Tuesday of each month at the Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr. Memorial Community Center, 34 W. 134th St.
In coming months they hope to attack violence in Central Harlem on several fronts. Urban Visions, for instance, hopes to start a “Peace Dojo” in Central Harlem where residents young and old can learn mediation and non-violence through the martial arts, said Urban Visions coordinator Bill Leicht.
Speakers at one meeting included Annie Ellman, a martial artist and founder of Brooklyn’s Center for Anti-Violence Education.
The group hopes to hold a “youth summit” with Harlem gangs — officiated over by the Ghetto Brothers, former gang members themselves — in hopes of forming a truce that will mitigate the violence.
“We think former gang members are people these young people can relate to,” Henry said. “When these young people are armed and go target someone, we have too many innocent bystanders who are hurt as collateral damage. There has to be a way to resolve these conflicts through non-violence.
“We need to start with the gangs and see if we can turn them around,” he added. “It’s a sad commentary, what’s happening with black youth. Too many of them are processed through the correctional system and end up on probation or parole. We want to end the trail to the jail.”
Next month Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr., one of Martin Luther King Jr’s closest strategists and now head of Emory University’s Center for Non-Violence and Peace Studies, will come to Harlem to address coalition members, Henry said.
Lafayette was a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee founder in the Civil Rights movement and has established Centers of Non-Violence in Africa and South America.
The group also plans an ambitious gun removal program under which Harlem residents can turn in illegal firearms without penalty. If approved, weapons could be turned in at a number of sites, including the 25th, 26th, and 32nd Precincts, Abyssinian Baptist Church, the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. community center, Masjid Malcolm Shabazz, St. Charles Borromeo R.C. Church, and at Riverside Church.
The proposed “Hands Across Harlem” demonstration will feature thousands of people holding hands and singing the song “This Little Light Of Mine” along the south side of 125th St. from Second Ave. to Broadway. If enough people show up, a second line would run the same length along the north side of the street.
The event was originally scheduled for Nov. 4 but organizers decided to change the date because the New York City Marathon will run through Harlem that same day. No new date has been set.
Henry, 63, is used to organizing huge events – in 1983 he organized a run from New York to Washington, D.C. collecting signatures to make the Martin Luther King national holiday.
“Having done something like that, this is not going to be too hard,” Henry said.