“It’s all about loving people,” says the Rev. Kevin Jones, Save Our Streets Brooklyn’s faith-based organizer. “I don’t believe in pastoring in four walls. I believe in pastoring in community.”
Faith leaders are essential partners in the work of the Center for Court Innovation’s S.O.S. programs, which seek to end gun violence at the neighborhood level by changing local norms.
The Rev. Jones (or “Rev,” as friends and colleagues call him) is the only faith-based organizer among all of New York City’s 26 anti-violence Crisis Management System sites, which deploy violence interrupters with first-hand knowledge of street and gang life to mediate conflicts before they escalate.
Since joining S.O.S. in 2011, he’s created a network of clergy of all faiths who share the “Stop Shooting, Start Living” message with their congregants and the public through frequent community events along with rapid responses to individual shootings, sending the message that the community will not tolerate violence. Clergy members also offer spiritual support to affected families.
The Rev. Jones organizes youth symposiums, drawing on clergy and S.O.S. staff to organize day-long curricula at schools to talk about gun violence and its harms. “When the S.O.S. street team speaks, the kids really hear them. Prison is sometime glamorized on the street, but our staff can tell them, ‘I’ve been to prison, and it’s not a good place.’”
He also organizes S.O.S’s annual Night of Remembrance to honor those lost to gun violence. The first year, 34 people attended. Seventy-seven came the second year and 179 the third year.
Born and raised in Crown Heights, the Rev. Jones had a decade of experience in the faith-based world as pastor of Peterson Temple Ministry (which he still leads) and a community organizer before he arrived at S.O.S.
“When I see a need, I can’t walk away. When the Police Department meets someone who lost a loved one, they’ll give them a number and say ‘go there,’” he says. While the Rev. Jones makes referrals to services, he also provides personal support. “If I met a person today, I would say ‘I’m going to call you and check on you. Is that OK?’ They usually say ‘OK.’ And then I call twice a week for a month and then once a week. I always stay in touch. This for me is an extension of my pastorship.”
Program Coordinator Gerina Davis calls the Rev. Jones the sage of S.O.S. “He observes people to monitor their energy levels, and, when they are low, he reaches out to ensure that they are okay,” she says. “He creates a space of safety for me where I can express myself. The love he has for people influences his mission and impacts the great work he does for individuals and families.”