Rev. Jeffrey Brown’s Ted Talk: A Dramatization Of Actual Events
By: Jamarhl Crawford
When you watch one of the History Channel’s critically acclaimed series on ancient Egyptians or the wildly popular “Vikings,” you do realize that it is not real history you are watching but rather a “dramatization of actual events,” right? Rev. Jeffrey Brown’s recent Ted Talk (now at an unbelievable 595,747 views) merged times, places and characters into the History Channel version of the so-called Boston Miracle.
Chuck Turner introduced mainstream media to the term “Preacher’s handshake” a term where money changes hands but it is done in a secretive manner with the hand acting as a shield to hide the exchange. Let me offer a more well known old preacher practice: The Preacher Embellishment. We all know that any good preacher worth his salt can deliver a sermon which evokes a roller coaster of emotions. Often this is achieved by anecdotal stories, with the preacher as the hero, the central figure, who overcomes obstacles and if only you worked as hard or prayed as hard or was as devout as he, then you too can have such inspiring victories. The problem is much of the stories told from the pulpit are parables, rehashed folktales and some just plain untruths.
I remember certain preachers recounting their past lives “in the street” and several painted themselves as street savvy players involved in drugs, gang fights, pimping, etc. Problem is that when talking with elder men from the same era who were not in the church and still in the so-called “street life” they verified what I always thought – many of these guys were lying about or exaggerating their pasts in order to validate themselves and sound more hip, relevant and knowledgeable.
Over the years many have attempted to take credit for the “Boston Miracle” and since the 90’s have been attempting to capitalize on a success that cannot be attributed to them. Notoriously, both the Boston Miracle and the Ten Point Coalition have been most closely associated to Rev. Eugene Rivers.
The man behind the Boston Miracle
The Reverend Eugene Rivers knows a thing or two about rough neighbourhoods. Seventeen years ago, he moved from the pleasant groves of Harvard academe to fight the gangs on their own turf.
SAVIOR OF THE STREETS (Newsweek) (emphasis added)
An ex-gang member who went to Harvard, Gene Rivers is an impolitic preacher on the cutting edge of a hot idea: can religion fight crime and save kids?
For the clergy, says Rivers, “this was a wake-up call. We had to be out on the streets,” just like Selvin Brown was. While the mainline Boston churches issued a denunciation of the violence, a group of ministers from smaller churches, mostly shoestring Pentecostal or Baptist, met in Rivers’ house to discuss a more radical response: walking the ‘hoods, engaging the gangs, pulling kids out. Instead of bickering with police, the ministers vowed to work with them, identifying the hardest cases. “The deal we cut was, ‘Take this one off the streets, we can deal with him in a prison ministry’,” the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, a Rivers ally, tells the Tulsa delegation. The cops, in turn, would rely on the clergy to work with the more winnable kids.
Since the 1992 alliance, and a reorganization of the Boston police and probation departments, juvenile crime here has fallen dramatically. Rivers is now trying to forge a similar coalition of churches nationwide. It won’t be easy: his brand of street-smart charisma is not easily transferable, and the work is house by house, block by block. “But at the end of the day,” he says, “the black church is the last institution left standing.” The noted conservative criminologist John Dilulio Jr., best known for predicting a coming wave of inner-city “superpredators,” has become an improbable friend and ally. In apocalyptic tones, Rivers-a forceful speaker who is sometimes accused of grandstanding-warns that as the teenage population swells in the next decade, “there will be virtual apartheid in these cities if the black church doesn’t step into the breach.”
Washington is starting to take notice, too. The 1996 welfare bill gives states the option to fund church groups in place of welfare agencies. Research on the effectiveness of faith-based programs is so far largely anecdotal. “But there is a lot of interest in this area now, because secular institutions have failed,” says Bernardine Watson, a vice president of the nonprofit Public/Private Ventures. “Anybody who wants to fund faith-based programs is looking at the Baker House model. Conservatives like it because of the crime angle; liberals like it because of the youth angle.”
When Rivers first came to Dorchester, the cops say, he believed there was no such thing as a bad kid. That has changed. Now, “ministers will come to us about a kid, say he’s menacing the community,” says Lt. Gary French, who works with Rivers. The Boston police estimate that 150 to 250 kids are responsible for most of the violent crime in the city. “We can disrupt a gang by incarcerating the most aggressive player,” says French. “But we can also disrupt it by getting the fringe players into alternative programs,” like those provided by Baker House. The exchange works both ways. “Right now,” says Rivers, “any cop in Dorchester can dump a kid off in Baker House, and say, ‘Look, I’m gonna crack this kid’s skull, take him.’ So we have taken the pressure off the police to play heavies.”
While the preachers and police have been up front claiming ownership of the “Boston Miracle” the very important work really behind that miracle belongs to several unsung heroes.
Two very notable contributing factors to reducing violence at the time are the most often overlooked.
* Min. Don Muhammad and several brothers from The Nation of Islam Mosque #11 were key to squashing “gang” beefs by working not only on the streets but also from behind the walls of MA prisons and were directly responsible for several “gang truces” as well as the verified rehabilitation of many individuals who have gone from street life and transformed themselves into some of our community’s most dynamic champions. The NOI prison ministry and street outreach were critical to reducing violence in Boston, then & now.
* Ray “Benzino” Scott & Antonio “Twice Thou” Ennis (formerly RSO, Made Men) were behind the genius Hip-
Hop project “WiseGuys” which brought several previously feuding “‘Hoods” together for an album and tours.
This project alone made a significant dent in Boston Violence by taking previously beefing crews and providing them with access to the music industry, the ability to get out of Boston and tour the world and most importantly having people from separate areas finding common ground in working together for a unified purpose.
For those of us like myself who lived through these times, it has always seemed like the Boston Miracle was really the collective romanticized fantasies of a select group of people eager to take credit. Back then I lived off of Humboldt Ave., exactly where I live now. I was a young, gifted and black teenager in the 80’s when crack first hit Boston and Uzis and 9mms were the tools of the trade. H-Block has always been hot since the days when the Georgetown “Homestead” Hoyas and the Los Angeles “Humboldt” Raiders gear were the uniforms of the day. Sorry if google doesn’t have a translation for G language.
To this day from the 80’s to now, I have never seen any of these preachers who claim to be hitting the streets so hard. What block are you (the reader) from? Have you seen preachers engaging with youth on the block afternoons or late nights? I have never witnessed it in 30 yrs and I personally don’t know of anyone who was approached or helped by clergy off of any block. Not saying there is not a case that exists, I’m just saying it is not as commonplace and pervasive as the proponents and beneficiaries of these stories would suggest. I understand nothing from the 80’s and maybe even the 90’s but by this time is there youtube video? Even Bigfoot and UFOs got youtube videos.
So let’s get to Rev. Jeffrey Brown’s Ted Talk. If you haven’t watched it you should.
The church that Rev. Brown pastored for over 20 yrs. (1988 – 2009) is Union Baptist Church located at 874 Main St., Cambridge. The “projects” he referred to down the street from his church is Newtowne Court, conveniently nestled between the killing fields of MIT and Kendall Sq. and a far cry from what most people would consider “projects,” compared to Boston’s “projects” like Orchard Park, Heath St., Franklin Field and Franklin Hill.
At one point, Rev. Brown references a moving story about the murder of Jesse “Jesse-Jess” McKie, who happened to be a friend of mine. He was killed in January of 1990 and this was a pivotal moment of reflection for me, who felt as though I could have some how prevented it if I was there at that moment since I also knew 2 of the 3 men who were charged and convicted of killing him. At that time it was quite common for Boston kids, myself included, to go to Cambridge (and Brookline) and rob people who we saw as easy “vics” (victims). On this occasion 2 guys I knew happened upon Jesse-Jess who was involved in hip-hop and was known as a “cool white boy” and they wanted the leather jacket that was part of his uniform to “be down.” He was stabbed and died. The dramatization of this story is what really got under my skin. Rev. Brown spoke about Jesse and implied that his dying steps were towards the church in a last attempt to get help from this pivotal church and pastor in the midst of the jungle. I don’t know the truth. I wasn’t there. What I do know is that his interpretation of events putting himself or his church as a central figure, I find disrespectful to all the lives who were ruined that evening, not only my “cool white boy” friend Jesse-Jess but also my other 2 friends who ended up with lengthy and in one case life sentences.
Here are the crime stats for the Cambridge experience which Rev. Brown spoke about in infamous tones and later conflated with the violence occurring in Boston.
CAMBRIDGE MURDER STATISTICS
(1980-1990): 43 murdered (from CPD Crime Analysis Unit +/- 1 margin of error)
(1990-2010): 42 people murdered in 39 incidents (in 3 of the incidents, 2 people were killed)
(2011): 5 murders, (2012): 1 murder, (2013): 3 murders
The grand total of murders in Cambridge from 1980 – 2013 is 94 murders.
If you take a look at Boston’s 20yr Homicide Report you will find Boston had 116 murders in 1990 alone.
In comparison, Boston from 1989 and 2008 had 1,465 homicides.
Brown somewhat abruptly left his over 20 yr. pastorship at Union Baptist in 2009, reportedly to dive deeper into anti-violence work.
“Cambridge pastor to lead TenPoint; Hopes to jump-start group’s anti-violence efforts”
Boston Globe July 23, 2009 (emphasis added)
“One of the most prominent local black preachers is leaving his longtime pulpit to take over the day-to-day management of a storied antiviolence organization and reenergize efforts by churches to combat the shootings that plague some Boston neighborhoods.
The Rev. Jeffrey Brown is resigning after 22 years as pastor of Union Baptist Church in Cambridge to accept a post as executive director of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, an organization he and other black ministers founded 17 years ago when a shooting during worship at Morning Star Baptist Church galvanized black clergy in Boston to try to reduce violence in the city. The organization was widely hailed for its role in the so-called Boston Miracle of reduced youth violence in the 1990s, but has since struggled with financial challenges and disputes among its founders.
“It’s important to signal to the broader community that we’re reemerging as a movement,” Brown said in an interview this week at the TenPoint headquarters in Jamaica Plain. “A cofounder at the helm will signal a level of seriousness to get it back into shape.”
TenPoint has an annual budget of about $2 million and is expanding to 42 employees, from just seven two years ago. The organization has been attempting to professionalize its operations in recent months, hiring a chief operating officer, regularizing its audits, and beefing up its programming staff, even as it is hiring several dozen street workers to work with teenagers involved with gangs.
TenPoint has recently claimed some success with its “Season of Peace” campaigns, which attempt to reach young people through fliers, also known as “club cards,” distributed at popular hangouts. It has also been emphasizing outreach to jailed teenagers in an effort to prevent postrelease revenge attacks.
Brown said that as executive director, he hopes to improve fund-raising, recruit more churches to take on youth violence as an issue, and to try to build a national network of antiviolence organizations.
“The TenPoint Coalition has really needed to stabilize its leadership, so this announcement is very welcome news,” said Paul S. Grogan, the president of The Boston Foundation, a grant-making organization that has been a longtime supporter of TenPoint. The foundation is now funding much of the coalition’s growth by paying for the hiring of the street workers as part of an initiative called StreetSafe Boston.”
“The TenPoint Coalition was founded in 1992 by a group of black ministers, including the Reverends Ray Hammond and Eugene Rivers, with the idea that churches were the best-equipped institutions in the city to reach out to young people and help steer them away from violence. The organization is best known for its work attempting to mediate between feuding gangs, and Brown has long been at the heart of those mediations.
“Like any organization that has a meteoric rise, one doesn’t sustain it for ever – and Boston TenPoint is going through an evolution as it transitions to new leadership,” said Rivers, who is no longer involved with the organization.
“Jeff is one of the most talented clergy that we have in the area, and the challenge for him is taking Boston TenPoint to the next level, and in an environment which is very different than the circumstances which gave birth to the original vision.”
Brown, 47, was born in Anchorage and grew up on a number of military bases while his father was in the Army; he summered with grandparents in North Carolina and New Jersey and attended high school in Pennsylvania. He attended Baptist churches as a child and Pentecostal churches as a teenager; he began preaching while a senior in college, moved to Boston in 1984 to attend Andover Newton Theological School, and was ordained a minister by the National Baptist Convention.
While at Andover Newton, he interned at Union Baptist – playing the piano for the young adult choir, among other tasks – and he was hired by the church as its pastor in 1987, when he was 25 years old. During his tenure at the Cambridge church, worship attendance has grown from about 100 to some 600, he said.”
“Brown has been highly visible on the public stage for some time – he was particularly close to former governor Mitt Romney, who at one point named him the unofficial mayor of a community of Katrina refugees sheltered on a Cape Cod military base – and his decision to take the job at TenPoint is being greeted positively by many who hope the organization can help reduce violence in the city.
“I think that the TenPoint Coalition, the Boston Police Department, and the city have not been as successful as we were in the ’90s on this front, primarily due to the fact that federal funding was eliminated,” said Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis. “There’s a real commitment on the part of all the partners to work together, and things are lined up now to use our existing resources and whatever resources we can get from the outside to rededicate ourselves to crime reduction.”
Jeff Brown then abruptly left the Ten Point Coalition in 2013.
TenPoint Coalition leader to depart
By Meghan E. Irons GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 25, 2013 (emphasis added)
“The Rev. Jeffrey Brown, the steady, pragmatic leader of the Boston TenPoint Coalition, is stepping down from the organization he helped to found 20 years ago, leaving a void in the city’s faith-based, crime fighting efforts that some say will be difficult to fill.
His departure signals the end of an era and comes at a critical time for TenPoint, whose legacy as the so-called Boston Miracle has lived on while the organization suffers fund-raising problems, inadequate staffing, and stymied efforts to move TenPoint to a higher level.”
“Brown, who had founded TenPoint with Hammond and the Rev. Eugene Rivers, said he is leaving the organization to fulfill his desire to bring faith-based crime prevention strategies to cities across the country. It is work he has been doing for years on behalf of TenPoint. But now he will serve as a consultant for another group.
Brown said he began thinking seriously about leaving TenPoint in March after he convened a summit in Washington, D.C. He began working with a few cities that wanted to replicate TenPoint’s successes.
But as demands for his expertise grew, Brown said he could no longer serve full time as TenPoint’s executive director and as a consultant for the other group.
“I realized very quickly that this was more advanced than giving presentations across the country,’’ said Brown. “It involves an expert that really understood the terrain.”
“But over the years, TenPoint’s movement stumbled, crime crept up, and the founders bickered. The group struggled to retain its footing amid competing nonprofits angling for funds in a constricting economy. TenPoint’s funding plummeted by 30 percent, and full-time staff was slashed, Brown and Hammond said.
Those familiar with its history said TenPoint was not prepared for its quick rise or the high expectations that followed.”
“In 2009, Brown, a TenPoint founder and former board chairman, stepped down as pastor of his Cambridge church to head TenPoint. He is hailed for leading TenPoint through hard economic times and standing out as a trusted voice for Boston’s black clergy, said the Rev. Gregory Groover, who chairs the board for the Ministerial Alliance. TenPoint, Groover said, will not be the same without Brown.”
“Jeff Brown is a good spokesman,’’ said the Rev. Mark Scott, a TenPoint associate. “He’s a presence. He’s respected. He’s got a good story to tell. But he has too few troops.”
“The challenge is the leadership doesn’t know when to leave,’’ added Rivers. “Personnel changes have to be made for the sake of the organization, the black community, and the city.”
Mayor Thomas M. Menino praised Brown as a minister who “did things the right way” by bringing people together to solve their problems.
But Menino concedes that Boston’s faith-based anticrime effort has weakened since the 1990s.”
So what these articles reveal to me is a person who early on, at 25, was given pastorship of a historic church. He pastors the church for 20 yrs and probably wanting something new jumps on to take the helm at Ten Point because after all the money was coming in as fast as the headlines and anti-violence strategies were all the rage across the country. Clergy was taking a front & center role on the issue of violence in the press and the board rooms. It was a prime time for Rev. Brown to get in where he fit in and even cash in.
At the time however, the Ten Point coalition was past its glory days. Many in the city administration, BPD and certainly the streets had lost faith in the organization and its leadership whose public feuds were becoming increasingly embarrassing. There was a power play going on. Rev. Rivers got ousted and went off to start the National Ten Point Coalition, leaving Brown with the Boston Ten Point Coalition. They both began taking there show on the road because after all, this town aint big enough to contain such larger than life personalities. The Power struggle as all are, was purely about resources, who was going to reap the credit, how can we get funding for programs and paid to speak and consult with groups around the country. It became a hustle and it was important for the hustle to work that they had to present themselves as the mircale makers with all the solutions, even as the organization was falling apart.
The last and most important group to lose faith were the funders. Ouch. We all know that funders are all about metrics, measurables ie results. If the results aren’t there the spigot gets cut off. If you read between the lines you can see clearly an emphasis on money. Now I know money is important, but there are too many groups doing great work who never even dreamed of a $2 million dollar budget, with little tangibles to show for it. At the end of the day, Rev. Brown continues to climb the ladder and position himself as an expert in anti-violence in order to bring in the big $$$ in funding, speaking and consulting all of which elevates him in status.
At the end of the day its a great hustle. Something happens almost 25 yrs ago and you spend the next 25yrs promoting it and talking about it and getting paid from it. Apparently, the praise of the Ten Point Coalition, Rev. Brown and the Boston Miracle blinds people from a clear view of the problematic retelling of history. Brown’s Ted Talk was part “Preacher’s embellishment” and part job interview / funding request. I learned of the Ted Talk via an email blast from Rev. Brown. I watched intently and took notes, as you can tell. A few days later, it appeared the talk went over well, maybe because the crowd and online viewers have no way to fact check any of his claims and have no knowledge of the areas and times he was describing. Something didn’t feel right to me and when I awoke one morning I received another email from Brown, this time, asking for you guessed it… money.