By now, many in South Florida are probably aware of Operation Hunger Strike, where nine men have vowed to fast for as long as it takes for us to see what gun violence has done, and is doing, to our community.
When I learned about the men, who so want to bring about a positive change, and stop the killing — especially of our black youth, I wanted to offer my support. So, I stopped by their makeshift home at the corner of Northwest 62nd Street and 12th Avenue in Liberty City, to let them know I am praying for them.
I was especially touched by one man, Minister Anthony Eugene Durden, who told me that it was because of my late son Pastor James “Rick” Hines, Jr., that his life was turned around. That touched me. My son died of a heart attack in September 2013.
He told me how Rick would call him every day to encourage him. “... We would talk for hours. He helped to change my life,” Darden said. “I haven’t been the same since he died. He was about reaching out to young men, getting them off the street and I am also more interested in outreach now.”
Durden said the fast has been ”... a life-transforming experience for me.”
He said local businessman Leroy Jones, who was on a cot nearby, got the idea for the hunger strike.
Jones told me the one thing the prompted him to do the fast was when he attended a vigil led by mothers who had lost their children to gun violence — Florida Mothers of Murdered Children.
“They were still crying and grieving. It was so sad. Santonio Carter, the father of King Carter, 7, who was killed in 2016, was at the vigil. He was so angry. Just seeing him like that really messed me up. As I walked away from the vigil, I told the guys with me that we had to come up with something different because everything that had been tried to curb gun violence was not working.”
The result is the Operation Hunger Strike with the Hunger 9 that is now in progress. In addition to Durden and Jones, the other men involved in the fast are: Anthony Blackman, Albert Campbell, Melvin El, Edward Hayes, George Dana Jackson, McArthur Richard, Sr., and Brother Phillip Muhammad Tavenier.
Jones was born in Savannah, Georgia, but moved to Miami when he was 9. Like many of his peers, he dropped out of school and chose a life of crime that landed him in prison three times. Even then, he never lost the urge to improve himself and returned to school graduating from the D.A. Dorsey Education Center.
Since then, Jones has created the Miami-Dade County Mom and Pop Small Business Program, the Micro Enterprise Business Assistance Grant Program, and he is the manager of the Employ Miami Dade Initiative Program. He said one of his most successful achievements is the creation of the non-profit organization Neighbors and Neighbors Association (NANA), Inc. which provides business workshops, training on how to start a business, assistance in obtaining a local business tax license, and training in preparing grants and other financial assistance. He is married and is the father of 12.
While fasting is not a fun thing to do, it has its benefits, said Durden.
The fast, which is being done to help bring attention to gun violence and how it is killing our children, has helped to make him a healthier man.
“I had very high cholesterol before starting this fast,” he said.
To prepare himself for the long haul of the fast, Durden said when the men decided to do the fast, he knew that he had to prepare himself physically, as well as spiritually.
“I stopped eating meat; I drank more water and I only ate one meal a day,” he said. “I’ve fasted in the past, but not to this extreme or for such a purpose.”
Durden, 49, said that he once was a part of the problem. So, for him, fasting to end gun violence is personal.
“I started using drugs at 13, and once ran with gangs. I spent over 15 years in jails and prisons and other institutions, before turning my life around. So, we are not out here playing the blame game… We are loving those who are still having problems like I had, and we are loving them where they are.”
Like some of the gun-toting young men in the community, Durden said his life didn’t start out as a gang banger. He was born in 1970, and was reared in a Christian home in Miami. When he was 6, his parents divorced and his mother moved the family to Compton, California. That’s where his trouble with drugs and gangs started.
“I dropped out of high school and got involved in gangs, robberies and selling drugs,” he said. His first experiment with drugs and alcohol led to a 20-year addiction and he ended up being homeless. Back in Miami, his worse days found him eating out of garbage cans just to survive.
It was about that time he was introduced to The Miami Rescue Mission, where he entered the Mission’s Regeneration Discipleship Program to get help for his drug and alcohol addiction.
Durden graduated from the program in 2006, graduating as a mentor to the residents and gaining the respect of both residents and staff. He later became the president of the Christian Men’s Club Corporation, and Sharing Hope Empowerment and Reaction (S.H.E.A.R.) Inc., a nonprofit faith-based organization.
He and his wife DeShawn, are members of Koinonia Worship Center & Village, where the Rev. Eric H. Jones , Jr. is the pastor, and where Durden first met my late son.
Durden said shortly after the hunger strike stated, “... we had a visitor from a guy who is involved in gun violence. He stopped by to encourage us,” Darden said.
The gesture helped Darden to realize that “... everybody has a conscience. And when it’s prompted with conviction, you can see the possibility for change,” he said.
Honoring South Florida’s pioneering women
The 21st Annual Leome Scavella Culmer Women’s History Luncheon will be at noon on March 25 at Moore Park, 65 NW 36th St.
Sponsored by the Lemon City Cemetery Community Corporation, the luncheon will honor Evangeline L, Edwards, a pioneer Miamian who is buried in the City Cemetery. In her lifetime, Edwards, who worked as a private housekeeper, was an active member of Saint Peters African Orthodox Cathedral. Her daughter Vera Lee, will be at the luncheon to accept recognition from the Miami Dade County Commission on behalf of her mother.
Josephine Dillard Powell Vickers will also be honored. A Florida pioneer, she was born in 1895 in Astor, in Central Florida. Her family migrated to Dade County when she was just an infant, and settled in the Boles Town section of Lemon City. Vickers was 2, when the historic Mount Tabor Baptist Church was organized in Boles Town, and was named the church’s mascot.
During her early years, Vickers stood out as a leader in the church. She used to make her way to church services, tramping through the woods with a lantern in one hand and wooden crates to be used for seating, in the other hand.
She met and married Richard Henry Powell in 1910. After his death, she met and married Robert Vickers in 1925. Vickers is remembered today for her beautiful singing voice, which she shared by singing with various musical groups, including the church choir, and the Silvertone Singers.
Her family members, which include Janice Powell Hopton, Karen Powell Lennon, and Marie Torres, will be on hand to receive Vickers’ accolade.
The luncheon is open to the community. For tickets and more information, call 305-638-5800.
St. Thomas law school dean honored
Congratulations to Tamara F. Lawson, the first African American female dean of St. Thomas University School of Law, on her recent honor for her outstanding contributions to the legal profession.
The honor was bestowed recently on Lawson by District 2 Miami Dade County School Board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall at the school board meeting.
Lawson was recognized during Women’s History Month as a “... trailblazing pioneer for legal education in the community.”
The Hadassah Mitzvah Chapter of the Greater Miami Region will sponsor a Women’s History Month panel discussion from 7 to 9 p.m. on March 27 at Highland Oaks Park, 20300 NE 24th Ave.
The theme of the discussion is “Women Who Do”, and the panel will spotlight a range of role models.
Guest speakers will include Eva Ritvo, a Miami Beach psychiatrist; Tibbi Duboys, a professor; and Lidia Lechtman, an educator. Karen Evans will be the moderator.
The community is invited. Call Jill Perez, Mitzvah chapter president at 786-290-8884.
Miami Symphony conductor recognized
A warm Neighbors in Religion salute to Eduardo Marturet, who recently was inducted into Genius 100, a global community that brings together individuals from across the globe, who are committed to promoting change and having a positive impact on humanity.
The honor places him alongside 12 Nobel Laureates.
Marturet is the conductor of the Miami Symphony Orchestra (MISO). According to a press release, he is being recognized for his work with MISO in successfully engaging the community by taking classical symphony and making it contemporary and relatable to everyone. He has often used his own funds to ensure the orchestra’s livelihood and growth.