When an award confirms the virtue of a cause at the same time that cause is dying the slow death of underfunding, there is obviously a problem.
Last week Attorney General Eric Holder honored Kenneth Barnes Sr. with the National Crime Victim Service Award, for outstanding service on behalf of victims of crime.
But even with that award Barnes, and his organization ROOT, Inc., face an uncertain future. “After getting the highest award you can get for victim services in the country I can’t even keep my lights on,” says Barnes who had to let staff go due to a lack of funding. My friend’s cause is one worth saving, because his story is truly remarkable.
“I had gone to school and was working for a degree in clinical psychology,” said Kenneth Barnes. “I was in my third year working on my doctorate, and then my son got murdered.”
In the aftermath of the murder of Kenneth Barnes Jr., his father tracked down witnesses, outhustled police and put the pieces together that soon led to an arrest and conviction. In doing so Barnes developed relationships on the streets of D.C. and learned that his family’s tragedy was not unique.
“That’s when I dropped school and dedicated my time to dealing with the insanity of this violence on the streets, the gun violence,” says Barnes. “I felt that there was not enough attention paid to our own everyday lives, especially those of our children.”
In 2002 Barnes formed Reaching Out to Others Together Inc. ROOT, Inc.’s mission is to motivate and mobilize communities to reduce the gun violence that plagues urban society. ROOT uses a three-prong approach to prevent and reduce gun violence and youth violence through advocacy, awareness, and education.
Their programs include the Community Level Change Project, the GUNS ASIDE campaign, Dunking Against Violence, and the Victims Assistance Task Force. ROOT also conducts monthly forums within the D.C. metro area to educate students about gun violence For the better part of a decade Barnes held workshops and seminars, and spoke in cities across America.
His work has inspired similar neighborhood and grassroots programs in other cities. And now Barnes feels he’s on the verge of seeing real progress.
“We have a bill out in Congress now that I feel real proud of,” says Barnes. “The Communities in Action Neighborhood Defense and Opportunity Bill, or CAN DO bill. “It is the only bill in Congress that’s addressing gun violence from a public health proactive perspective. Nothing else in this Congress is doing that.”
With the recent award from Eric Holder, a chance of getting his bill passed on Capitol Hill, and even a day named in his son’s honor, one would think that the future is bright for Barnes and ROOT. That is simply not the case though. Just as the accolades and acknowledgments piled up, the funding and support dried up as well. The current financial crisis has devastated non-profits and community based organizations such as ROOT. However the problem has less to do with the crisis itself and more to do with the fact that groups like ROOT were dragged out as the first sacrificial lamb to the recession.
The government tells us that some industries are too big to fail and therefore they deserve to be bailed out. Well I think some causes are too sacred to give up on. With jobs scarce and times desperate the burden to keep low-income urban areas safe and secure now falls on understaffed, overworked and underfunded causes like ROOT. And now they can’t even keep the lights on. But it doesn’t have to be like that. If you can spare a dime or a dollar please find it in your heart to send it to ROOT, Inc., and keep them alive.
Regardless of whether you can give though, please call the House Judiciary Committee and tell them to bring the CAN DO Act of 2009 to a vote, as a way of thanking Kenneth Barnes and showing your support.
For Future Generations… Rev. Lennox Yearwood President, Hip Hop Caucus www.hiphopcaucus.org