LIMA — When the Ohio attorney general brought police, prosecutors, doctors and others together to tell a group of men who committed violent crimes to stop or risk spending their rest of their lives in prison it struck a chord with Phil Morton.
He heard a lot of people talking blunt to the group, all black men. Then Pastor Daniel Hughes of The Future Church offered to help them and reach out any way he could. For Morton, that was the beginning of an idea that was formed by talking with Hughes and Lima Police Maj. Chip Protsman.
“It touched me from the standpoint that we need to be proactive,” said Morton, who is the local chair of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice and a corrections program coordinator at Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution.
Through many conversations the idea evolved into a program No Way Out Initiative that the men, with help from numerous others, created to try to reach out to the community, especially children and their families. The goal is to keep people from ever being in the courtroom charged with crimes or getting lectured on how bad their lives turned out.
The group has adopted Unity Elementary School in the heart of the black community to offer help to children and families any way they can. A meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 11 at The Future Church at the corner of Kibby and Elizabeth streets to explain the program and help. People also can call Protsman at 419-221-5266 for information.
Such programs will include educational opportunities, job training, drug and alcohol counseling, and anger management. The goal is to have short meetings each month.
Hughes’ message was straight from the heart that day.
“I want to be there as a part of the community and send a clear message that we want you to live and we want you to be safe,” Hughes said.
Hughes and the other men believe local churches can be at the forefront of the initiative, especially in the black community where churches are powerful organizations that can reach people.
The key to reaching out is for churches, police and leaders in the black community to work together. And it’s not just for the black community. The program, while based in the black community, is for anyone in need, they said.
Protsman said police would much rather work to prevent people from committing crimes than dealing with them after crimes have been committed.
The program will start out small with one school. It will be evaluated and scrutinized after one year. People in the program will serve as powerful voices on what works and what does not, the men said.
Hughes said everyone involved in running the program, all volunteers, have to be fully committed. He said it’s easy to blame police, government or point the finger at someone else for problems but the truth is the blame can be shared.
Even as a pastor, Hughes said he and other religious leaders haven’t done enough to address the needs of the community and its residents, which is key to improvement.
“I don’t think the church has carried its weight in the community for a while,” he said.
Morton also plans to reach out to inmates at the prison with programing, and perhaps helping with programs for young people, since nearly all inmates eventually will be released and back in the community again.
Lima schools is fully onboard and suggested Unity. School officials sent out letters to the families of every student in hopes families and students will take advantage of the program that could ultimately change their lives for the better.
Hughes, Morton and Protsman are just asking people to hear them out and give the program a chance.
“A lot of times we think of that in bricks and mortar and real estate but we are trying to redevelop the community,” Hughes said.
It may sound like a tall task but the men believe it can be done one child, one person and one family at a time.