BENTON HARBOR – The only way to end gun violence in Benton Harbor is for every resident to take ownership of the problem and work to stop it.
That’s what Pastor Taurus Montgomery told teens Monday at the Stand With Us Teen summit on gun violence at the Joel E. Smilow Teen Center in Benton Harbor.
“You have to say to yourself, ‘I want something different in my community,’ and you can do that even as a young man, as a young woman in high school — as a teenager,” he said. at the event, which was hosted by Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Southwest Michigan. “You can make a difference. … There is nothing more powerful than a young black girl and a young black boy doing something good in our community.
One way to make a difference is to speak up, he said.
“We must have the courage to speak the truth,” said Montgomery, pastor of the Harbor of Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Benton Harbor. “If you see something, say something.”
Montgomery said he grew up in Mobile, Alabama, watching his father punch his mother in the face and kick her on the steps.
“I saw these things at a very young age and I thought that was how you resolved conflicts when you were dealing with someone who had a problem with you,” he said. “…Violence is a learned thing. When you see it so much, you get used to it.
He said he started carrying a gun, dealing drugs and robbing people when he was 12.
Like many children who grow up violent, Montgomery said he was angry all the time and had communication problems.
But while at university he said he went to all the free advice they had. He said it was because he was determined to break the cycle of violence that children learn from the adults around them.
“We have to heal our pain,” he said. “Hurting people, hurting people.”
After Montgomery’s speech, club members posed questions to the panelists, who included Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, Benton Harbor Director of Public Safety Dan McGinnis, Retired State Trooper of Michigan, Maurice Burton, and Chief Judge Mabel Mayfield of the Berrien County Trial Court.
Mayfield said the local justice system is working to help families by making plans to build a juvenile justice family services campus.
Muhammad said the city partnered with Kinexus last summer to provide jobs for more than 100 city youths. He said he was working to develop more partnerships so that even more young people can have jobs and internships next summer.
“Youth are the most important resource and asset of the community,” he said.
Montgomery said her church is hosting a Stop the Violence tour, which began in July, where volunteers serve Benton Harbor area residents with food and play games with them. He said tours were continuing and attendees did not need to be members of his church to volunteer. For more information, visit www.harborofhopepmc.org/stoptheviolence.