Daytona Beach, FL - With the battle cry of "faith moves mountains" echoing through the rafters, hundreds of parish members and residents demand action from Volusia County leaders.
Last night (April 8th), at an almost filled Peabody Auditorium, members of FAITH (Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony), along with members of the community, gathered to call attention to different problems throughout the community.
Mostly, the members of FAITH focused on affordable housing, youth arrests, and out-of-school suspensions.
Members of FAITH told the crowd that they have sent an invitation and a list of questions to members of the Daytona Beach City Commission, Volusia County Council, Department of Juvenile Justice, the Volusia County School Board and the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.
Those questions, which leaders got to view first, pertained to certain issues that FAITH wanted to address at the assembly. Leaders were then invited to the stage to offer an answer.
Each question was a yes or no question, and if a leader responded with yes the audience was instructed to clap and show their support. On the inverse, if the answer was no, the audience was told not to boo or jeer, but instead remain silent.
The first issue that came up, was affordable housing in the county. The Daytona Beach City Commission and the county council were the first to take the stage.
In attendance for Daytona Beach was Mayor Derrick Henry and Commissioners Quanita May and Paula Reed. For Volusia, Council members Billie Wheeler, Heather Post and Barbara Girtman attended.
FAITH first addressed the Daytona Beach City Commission, asking if within the next six months they will vote to provide city land to be used for permanent supportive housing, to which the commission responded yes.
"If a man or a woman is willing to work full-time in our community, then they should be able to afford to live in our community," said Mayor Henry
Commissioner Reed also commented on that effort, saying that it wouldn't take just the city but also the citizens of Daytona Beach to help out.
The county council was then asked if they believe the lack of affordable housing in Volusia was a crisis. Again, another unanimous response of yes.
However, Jackie Mole, co-chair of the affordable housing committee and the facilitator of the questions, decided to also address the members of the council that did not attend.
According to Mole, County Chair Ed Kelley and council members Fred Lowry and Deb Denys chose not to attend the meeting or meet with FAITH and discuss their answers. Council Member At-Large Ben Johnson didn't attend but he did meet with FAITH, according to Mole.
In fact, some members of FAITH commented on the absence of some of the county's leaders, most notably the county's chairman.
"We are especially disappointed that the chair of our county council chose not to attend this evening," said Dr M.L. Kaufman, Pastor of Tubman-King Community Church. "He owes us an explanation."
Attendees were also urged to call Chairman Kelley and ask him to meet with FAITH to discuss the questions brought up to the council. A suggested phone script was also provided in the program FAITH gave to attendees.
Next on stage was the members of the Volusia County School Board. Those in attendance were Volusia School Board Chair Carl Persis, Superintendent James T. Russell and board members Ida Wright, Jamie Haynes and Ruben Colón.
Representatives from the school board were asked to help decrease the number of out-of-school suspensions with the implementation of restorative practices and not punitive.
For example, according to FAITH, with punitive practices misbehavior is defined as breaking school rules.
With restorative practices, misbehavior would be defined as emotional, mental or physical harm done to one person or a group by another.
In punitive, schools would focus on what happened and find a guilty party, while restorative would focus on problem-solving by expressing feelings and figuring out how to address the problem in the future.
With that implementation, FAITH believes they could lower suspensions in Volusia, which compares to some of the highest suspension rates in the state.
"There are 67 counties in Florida. And Volusia County, our county, has the 11th highest suspension rate of those 67 counties," said Pastor Sharon Dey of Tomoka United Methodist Church.
The other problem that concerns Volusia's youth, according to FAITH, was the use of arrests over civil citations when it came to juvenile crime. And that topic was directed towards 7th Circuit Chief Probation Officer Dan Merrithew and Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
FAITH said that in the last 12 months, over 6,000 children in Florida were arrested for first-time non-violent offenses. Instead of arresting the children, they believe they should be cited, giving them a second chance.
They fortified that statement by saying fewer than 5% of juveniles reoffend after going through the civil citation process. The state would also save $4,500 for each child who received a civil citation instead of being arrested.
But, in order to clarify, citations would not be just a slap on the wrist. Juveniles would go through rigorous programs of accountability, perform community service, pay restitution to the victim and apologize to the victim, officer and those affected by their action.
Each of the council members also agreed publicly to meet with FAITH again in six months for a status update.