New York Pastors Turn Funerals Into Outreach Events In Effort to Save Young Lives,

The Rev. Darius Pridgen preaches during the funeral service for Raekwon Jabbar at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo Saturday.
The Rev. Darius Pridgen preaches during the funeral service for Raekwon Jabbar at True Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo Saturday.

Raekwon R. Jabbar was the “most beautiful and bubbly baby” before growing into a young man who was always laughing and smiling, loved ones recalled. When he graduated last year from West Seneca West High School, his message for the family was, “I told you I would do it … Look, I did it.”

But out on the streets, another Jabbar emerged.

His life turned violent and he was known by police, who arrested him in March along with four other young men after a fight erupted outside a Bailey Avenue apartment early one Saturday morning. A gun was thrown out the window and police seized seven bags of marijuana.

Then, on May 4, Jabbar was one of four teenagers shot in an attack on Roosevelt Avenue that appeared to be gang-related, according to police. The other three suffered superficial wounds. Jabbar was not so lucky.

He was just 19.

His death prompted the Rev. Darius Pridgen to try something new to reach the gangbangers at Jabbar’s funeral over the weekend, where mourners – including about 300 young people – nearly packed the 800-seat True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street. They included family, friends and – presumably – other gang members.

Pridgen wondered aloud where the gangbangers were headed in life and whether they wanted to change. Nearly all of the young men and women stepped forward to sign their names on the purple wall behind the stage, indicating they were ready for something better.

That is what Pridgen has done at all the funerals he has held for gang members; but this time, there was something more.

He performs about 40 such services each year. He officiated at one last week and has another one coming up Tuesday. Inevitably, the young people who pause for peace for a few moments to honor their friends head back to the streets and the violence.

“I’ve done so many homicide funerals of young people that I have lost count,” said Pridgen.

Why don’t they change? Pridgen may not have the answer, but at Jabbar’s funeral, he and Arlee Daniels, program coordinator at Stop the Violence Coalition, tried a new approach to reach the hundreds of young mourners.

Everyone who came to the funeral signed the guest book and received a card with a picture of Jabbar and a comforting Bible verse on the front.

But listed on the back are the names, telephone numbers and addresses of service agencies where young people can go for help. Organizations like Crisis Services, Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo and others offering youth employment, parenting help, prison prevention, counseling and mentoring as well as GED and job-training programs were represented.

In addition, the Youth Intervention Program and the Boys and Girls Club set up tables outside the sanctuary for young people to visit after the funeral for more information.

The idea is that somewhere down the road, the cards might come in handy for a young person who wants a better life.

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SOURCE: The Buffalo News
Deidre Williams

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