WILMINGTON, Del. — Michael Tyson, OFM, is leading the initiative at St. Paul’s Church here to partner with churches and community organizations in making the streets safer.
In short, he is working for the “Franciscan theme of justice and peace for all, regardless of what race or creed a person is,” said Michael. “Justice and peace means establishing a relationship with God. It’s important to work both inside the Church and out.”
Michael has been working with the 1,000 Man Call to Consciousness and Action, a new peacekeeper group to help stop violence and conflict by healing torn relationships between factions in the city. For example, the African-American and Hispanic populations in the city, he said, are at odds.
The animosity has gotten so bad, he said, that Wilmington has had 30 murders in the past two years. The most recent occurred in mid-July, when a 26-year-old man was killed, the second victim in his family. Many of the murders go unsolved, according to Michael.
In June, the ecumenical 1,000 Man Call held a march to raise awareness for the cause; it recruited more than 300 men and attracted the attention of local media. The men mentor children, counsel with street gangs, connect alcoholics and drug-abusers with services, help the unemployed find jobs and talk to moms and dads about good parenting skills.
Walking the Streets
In addition to the marches, Michael said members of the group spend an hour a week walking the streets of Wilmington, befriending people who are hanging out during the day. “Our goal is for safer streets and unity of churches,” he added. They hope to recruit 1,000 men who are committed to consciousness and morals.
Michael noted that the program has been well-received and people in the streets appreciate being approached. “They’re more afraid than anything else. They seem to like us reaching out to them.
“One of the things we want to do is have a greater understanding that men need to take their rightful place in the family. It is not just women’s work. When families become stronger, violence will end.”
Justice & Peace Background
Michael’s interest in justice and peace issues began in 2000 when he ministered at Holy Name Parish in New York City, near Harlem. The pastor at the time, Jerome Massimino, OFM, asked him to lead the parish’s justice and peace efforts. “I said, ‘I don’t think I could do it,’” Michael recalled.
But Michael dove passionately into the cause, working with other churches and synagogues on a group called Westsiders for Peace and Justice. The group held a march each year on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and sponsored drives to get health insurance for more people.
Michael, who moved in 2008 to St. Paul’s Friary from Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, said the Wilmington group is a model for other programs, and he hopes to get more churches engaged. The group is lobbying the city council to investigate some of the unsolved murders.
“We want to stop the chain of violence,” said Michael, “so kids don’t grow up repeating the same behavior. When people overcome their prejudices and live as a community — and when everyone is caring for everyone else — that is a spiritual reawakening.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to HNP Today.