A campaign by two ministers to persuade thousands of teen-agers to sign pledges that they would disavow street gangs, attend church and register to vote faltered Friday when a Lynwood high school principal refused to let the clergymen on his campus, accusing them of misrepresenting their activities.
C. C. Coleman, pastor of the New Life Baptist Church in Lynwood, and Rev. James Stern of Faithful Central Baptist Church in South-Central Los Angeles had said they hoped to persuade substantial numbers of youngsters to stay away from gangs by offering them help in finding jobs in exchange for individual, signed commitments to live better lives.
The ministers said they had been negotiating with private employers in the hope that they could funnel into jobs people who had signed what Coleman called “a covenant.” The pledge includes promises to accept any job the ministers arranged, turn in gang-related clothing, finish high school or complete an equivalent course, register for the draft and register to vote and attend any religious service at least once a month.
In exchange, the ministers said, they would supply replacement clothing to any gang member who turned in his “colors” and find employers who would not be troubled by the fact that an applicant may have been a gang member.
Stern, who had helped organize two “summits” of rival gang members during the summer while working for another South-Central Los Angeles church, said he hoped that the new effort could reach out to gang members and potential gang recruits by “getting commitments out of people.”
He and Coleman said they hoped to obtain the first 2,000 signatures on Friday. They obtained the permission of Lynwood High School’s principal, Mickey Cureton, to address a “Say-No-To-Gangs” assembly.
But Cureton changed his mind Friday morning, complaining that Stern had tried to attract the news media to the high school by billing the assembly as a “gang summit.”
The trouble began early in the day when United Press International’s “Daybook,” a schedule of daily events published for various news media organizations and based on information provided by sponsors of those events, said that there would be a “gang summit” at Lynwood High’s stadium, with “more than 2,700 gang members and other youths” expected to attend.
That characterization of the high school’s student body--which Cureton says has some gang members but “not a gang problem"--infuriated the principal, who heard about it when reporters began calling the high school to confirm details.
“Rev. Stern gave a false media release,” Cureton said.
Stern blamed the trouble on media phone calls to the school.
“The principal got nervous,” he said.
Added Coleman, whose church is the sponsor of the effort to persuade young people to sign contracts: “Somehow the news got out that we were going to have gangs (at the high school). We just want to get into the schools. If we can get to the students early, we can make a difference.”