‘Never do we have a united front on a consistent basis’: Faith leader on gun violence solutions

Target 3

URBANA, Ill. (WCIA)– Patterns have begun to emerge as we continue to cover the violence cycle week after week in Central Illinois. For example, we’re told by community members and leaders alike that shootings are most often retaliatory, stemming from another shooting.

We’ve heard that the current spike in gun violence began a few years back, and from conversations opened up by our Target 3 team, we’ve been told it’s deeply ingrained in culture.

Target 3 talked to those who have been there, wrapped up in crime and violence, and that was the only life they knew. At the time, it truly felt like the only option. Now watching things unfold from the other side, they told us guns have become that status symbol.

We sat down with a faith leader to continue this conversation. Pastor Jonathan Jackson runs Exceed Church in Rantoul. He has seen the violence growing over a few years, and after he lost his cousin, Richard Wright, it became personal.

“Sometimes the streets start to raise the children,” he began.

Jackson has watched as gun violence grew from the hub cities to small towns in Central Illinois. The commonality, especially among kids or adults who got involved as kids? Poverty and homes where parents are less present, according to the pastor.

“You’ve got single-parent homes, multiple children, and then they’ve got to work a job just to put food on the table, and it’s still not enough to do that, and then you can’t put a child in an extracurricular because you don’t have enough to do that,” he explained.

Jackson and Glass sit down for an interview in Jackson’s Urbana home.

Jackson said he has no idea where the guns are coming from, “but I just know that a lot of the guns that are servicing are bigger and badder than what police are carrying.”

Meanwhile, bystanders are getting caught in the crossfire. Jackson said that’s also become a trend, and it happened in Rantoul, over the July 4 weekend.

Champaign barber and business owner Ray Glass sat in on the conversation. He has been a friend of Jackson’s for nearly a decade.

“Two of the men that were grazed, I’ve cut their hair since they were three years old,” Glass shared. “…As a barber, I’m only one person away from all of these people that are going through all of these things.”

Jackson said change is possible, but not easy.

“The only way you can change bad habits is, you’ve got to consistently show somebody a different way,” Jackson said.

Jackson says there are a lot of programs out there, but those efforts need to be combined.

“Never do we have a united front on a consistent basis,” he said. “Like, some people think that just sports are the way to do it. No, you can’t just do it with sports. It’s gotta be sports, you’ve got to do things to help them, to show them that school is for everybody.”

Glass had a similar philosophy.

“I’m always doing, ‘Okay, I know this person that’s doing this thing, and then this person is doing this thing. You guys should meet,'” he said.

Jackson said entire communities have a stake in bringing this to a halt.

“Property values don’t stay high if you have murders and boarded-up buildings where you live,” he explained.

Jackson said we can drastically reduce the violence, and a tightly knit community is the answer.

“You don’t have kids running to the arms of the streets, because they’re running to the arms of a mentor,” he elaborated. “They’re running to the arms of a business owner that’s showing them how to start LLCs. Do you see what I’m saying? That’s the difference and there has to be more of that.”

Jackson was recently handed the reigns to his parents’ church in Rantoul. It’s now called Exceed Church, and he is working on making it a hub for young, disenfranchised people. He said he’s using connections to combine spiritual guidance with school help, physical fitness, and access to business leaders too.

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