Groups launch coalition to end violence

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Groups launch coalition to end violence

By Jenna De Marco | Jan. 28, 2010 {1132}

Despite a sluggish economy, poor housing market and the worst unemployment Florida has seen in decades, people living in Florida City are seeing some signs of promise for a better year.

A message of peace spoken in three languages late last year marked the beginning of a long-term effort to stop the violence plaguing their South Florida community.

Florida City residents gather on the lawn at Branches United Methodist Church as part of the coalition launch service. Photo courtesy of Branches United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1385.

The trilingual service, which officially introduced the Coalition for a Non-Violent Florida City to the public, took place at Branches United Methodist Church.

The church is located in a community where about half the city’s population lives below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The area has a large immigrant population, and its main industry is agriculture.

Violent crime is commonplace, said the Rev. Audrey Warren, senior pastor at the Branches church. Warren says may of her parishioners have family members who are either victims of violent crime or perpetrators of it.

“There’s just a lot of violence, and a lot of parents that I talk to (think) there’s nothing they can do,” Warren said.

The coalition came together after several people, including Warren, recognized a need for a message of peace. The purpose of the coalition is two-fold — helping people affected by violence and preventing future violence through education.

Speaking in Spanish, Warren led the launch service, which was rooted in verses from Matthew 5 and translated into English and Creole. The worship bulletin also included all three languages.

“The whole theme of the night was ‘How do we wait for peace?’ because this season is a season of waiting,” Warren said in an interview after the service. In a time of waiting, she said, the answer is found in loving our enemies and “praying for those who are committing these acts.”

Although loving one’s enemies is radically different and a big command, “if Christians cannot love their communities, then who can?” she said.

About 120 people, including a city commissioner and the mayor, attended the service in a church that normally seats 80. The attendees prayed for and sang songs of peace. One special guest was Florida City Police Chief Pedro Taylor, whose 24-year-old son Sean was killed in 2007. Sean, who was shot when his home was burglarized, was a player for the National Football League’s Washington Redskins.

Because of Pedro Taylor’s life experience and enthusiasm for the coalition, his participation reading Scripture during the service provided a particularly moving moment, Warren said. United Methodist Board of Global Ministries missionary Kim King Torres, who is based at Branches, said, “Being in the same service as a police officer is incredibly healing” for families affected by violence.

Coalition plans education emphasis

The police department will continue its work with the coalition by providing family members of crime victims and perpetrators with information about the organization. The coalition can then make counseling referrals or hold vigil services.

Children participate in outdoor activities during the after-school program at Branches, housed at the former Florida City United Methodist Church. File photo by Geoff Anderson. Photo #06-371. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0498, 06/04/06.

“It’s showing the family that they are not alone and there are people who want to help them and heal them,” she said.

The community groups that support the coalition will also offer monthly vigils for victims of violent crimes and their families, perpetrators who have been released from prison, families of perpetrators, and members of the community who want to work for peace, Warren said. The vigils will include messages from community members and an opportunity for people to share their stories, ask forgiveness and pray.

The coalition will sponsor an event May 5 -9 called “Florida City Love Yourself.” It will feature five days of activities, including a health fair, house painting through Habitat for Humanity’s “A Brush With Kindness” program, 5K walk/run, evening vigil and worship service in the community park. Participants will also be able to turn in real or toy weapons and violent video games.

“We have to be bold in these things,” Warren said about getting rid of aggressive forms of entertainment.

Building relationships, trust

Torres, who has worked with children and families in the Branches community since the mid-1990s, said the church’s long-standing relationship with these families formed the background for launching the coalition.

“The timing for this coalition is perfect because it takes a while for people to trust you,” Warren said.

Under the South Florida Urban Ministries umbrella, Torres and a staff of 10 people facilitate after-school tutoring programs, summer and spring break camps, youth groups, English classes and many other outreach ministries. The programs serve many children and youth whose families have been touched by violence. “She has lived out what the coalition wants to do,” Warren said of Torres’ service.

The programs, which are collectively called “Branches,” inspired a recently approved church-wide name change from Florida City United Methodist Church to Branches United Methodist Church, Warren said. The coalition will first focus on the Branches families for education about nonviolence. Educational efforts will also take place in schools and other churches.

College student Martine Daceus in 2006 helps a child improve his reading skills at Branches. Photo by Geoff Anderson. Photo #10-1386.

Martine Daceus, 23, has a unique appreciation for what Branches and the coalition are trying to accomplish in the neighborhood. When she and her mother came to the United States on a boat from Haiti during her youth, Daceus found a second home at Branches’ after-school programs. And while she attended college, she volunteered at Branches, helping children with backgrounds very much like her own with spelling and reading homework.

Now, Daceus leads a middle school girls’ Bible study at the church and helps with children’s Sunday school. She said she appreciates the ecumenical approach of the coalition.

“It’s multiple voices coming together to become one voice,” she said.

Other churches participating in the launch service included Homestead’s First and Redland Community United Methodist churches, Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church in Miami, South Dade Haitian United Methodist Church in Leisure City, New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, and Miami Vineyard Community Church.

Warren’s long-term vision is for the coalition to be self-sustaining, modeled after such programs as the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham in Durham, N.C. ( To that end, she has begun raising funds in her community and applied for a grant from the Florida Conference Leadership Connection.

More information about the coalition is available by contacting Warren at 305-246-2686 or

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News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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