GARY | A well-known African proverb says it take a village to raise a child. In parts of America, that village is broken, the Rev. Michael Pfleger believes.
Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago, was the keynote speaker for Friday's fifth annual Youth Violence Prevention Conference presented by Community Organizations for Families and Youth at Indiana University Northwest.
There were a number of speakers throughout the day, but Pfleger was probably the most eagerly awaited.
“No matter where he goes, his presence and message of peace are a given,” Gary Deputy Mayor Delvert Cole said.
Pfleger’s speech was part sermon, part pep-talk, part plea.
“You have unlimited talents and possibilities (awaiting you),” he said to the young people in the audience. “We need you.”
His subject was violence and the many cultural touchstones which feed into it: music, entertainment, frayed community ties, racism and neglect.
The solutions are many and complex and involve “a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of things.”
Pfleger’s comments received an enthusiastic response from audience members, who called back their encouragement during his speech.
Pfleger talked about better schools, renewed communities, stronger families, a better relationship between the police and the community, decent opportunities — all of which are the part of the recipe for ending violence.
“We have all this technology, but we won’t talk to each other,” he said. “We don’t reverence the value of each other’s lives. We’ve lost that. We treat each other like garbage. If people keep treating me like garbage I’m going to act like garbage.”
He also touched on President Barack Obama’s statement this week in support of gay marriage.
“I was happy to hear President Obama say he supports the right of two (gay) people to marry.” But he would also like to see Obama speak out on the issue of violence in America.
“It’s a genocide, and it’s not happening in Darfur or the Congo. It’s happening here in America, and it mostly involves black and brown children,” he said.
The race of the victims definitely makes a difference; if the tragedy involved white children more would be done to stop it, he said.
The daylong conference was sponsored by Coca-Cola, NIPSCO, McDonald’s, Methodist Hospitals and the Gary police department, among others.