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Engage, not disengage, to save youth

This week, Reverend Dr Lucille Baird provoked a firestorm from the pulpit as she made the bold call for authorities to ban blocks.

“We have to watch these blocks and we can’t be reactive, we have to be proactive. If two people sit together, break it up. If three people stay together, break it up before it becomes a colossal giant that we can’t kill. Because they sit there and it becomes a place for growing crime and criminals,” she said, while addressing the service hosted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit at her Mount Zion Mission church.

The immediate reaction, particularly on social media, was venomous:

“Stop the talk and get out your lofty tower and go sit and evangelize.”

“Prophets + Microphone + illogical thinking = Game plan for disaster.”

“If you live in a glass house don’t throw stones.”

Strong condemnation indeed, though some argue no less harsh than the comments by the religious leader.

But before passing sentence it may have been more reasonable to ponder the message.

None of us can deny that Barbados has a growing crime problem on its hands and it would be foolhardy for the public to deny that blocks – where a worrying portion of our youth assembles – can be a breeding ground for criminal activity.

Police and criminologists have already provided the evidence and even prison inmates and reformed criminals on the outside have told stories of being introduced to illegal drugs and other deviant practices while on the block.

Of course, not every block is occupied by those who are bent on pursuing illegal activity. In some communities, the boys, and even girls, come together to “lime”. And lime does not only refer to loitering, wasting time or negative activity.

We aver that banning blocks may not be the solution, for be it on the blocks or in backyards, the beach or in the park, people will congregate as is their right to do, so guaranteed under the Constitution.

Still, Reverend Baird’s concern about the illicit activity from the blocks cannot be faulted.

In the search for answers, the country should perhaps start by investigating why youth are resorting to the block, despite a credible number of training programmes and other opportunities provided by Government, non-governmental organizations and even churches.

It’s a mission that Reverend Baird and her religious counterparts should consider if they are determined to save the souls of the wayward.

Too many people feel forsaken by the church.

The experts tell us that young people are drawn to the block for varied reasons, including identity, fellowship, and recognition –  all of which should be provided within the setting of the family. Again, this is an opportunity for the church to probe and offer support and guidance to broken households, which are not providing the basics for its members.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart signalled that the country was indeed looking to the church as he addressed a national consultation put on by the Anglican Diocese of Barbados, held under the theme Restoring Our Barbadian Family.

Acknowledging that the country was being weighed down by drugs and gun violence, Stuart made it clear that rather than society simply condoning what was happening, every effort must be made to respond to the diverse aspirations of the “young and not so young” to win the battle against crime, and that there was a vital role for the church.

“The Church and the State have to come together to see how best we can, first of all, frame a dialogue on the issue, but also to see how best we can come up with solutions to some of the challenges posed by a sense of alienation of those who are involved that makes them easy candidates for recruitment to that nefarious drug trade.”

Not only the Church and the Government but every business, every non-governmental organization, every expert, all Barbadians must reach out to our troubled youth to save them from the path of destruction.

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