OAKLAND, CA (FR) – Plitner Avenue in the inner city area of Oakland, California, was one of the hottest crime and drug spots in the city. After years of being harassed and burglarized by drug dealers, and ignored by politicians, some landlords wrote a letter to Pastor David Kiteley of Shiloh Christian Fellowship – asking him to help clean up the neighborhood. Kiteley responded by opening up his church building to hold a meeting for local law enforcement officials.
He and his church members didn’t realize that just five blocks away was one of the most dangerous, drug infested areas in the city. “It put our church in a whole different arena,” said Kiteley. “We’ve heard a lot about reforming and rebuilding the city, but now we are putting it into action. It’s no longer rhetoric.” This led to the first massive “block party” and a March for Righteousness down Plitner Avenue.
Since the march in 1985, Plitner hasn’t been a problem, and Kiteley has spearheaded a massive neighborhood community movement which has been effective in reducing crime and drug use. Police say that 6,000 were arrested on drug charges in Oakland in 1987, and estimated that 7,000 were arrested in 1988.
“Now we don’t even think about Plitner,” said Lt. Fred Peoples of the Oakland Police Department. “We’ve cleaned up the area and have moved into other areas. The only thing we heard about Plitner was a shoot-out two years ago,” he explained. “That was because after we had the march, the dealer moved away and then decided to come back. We haven’t heard anything from there since then.”
Lt. Peoples added that Shiloh Chrisitian Fellowship is the best thing that has happened to the Oakland Police Department. “They have been the impetus behind this movement,” he said. After the 1987 march, a Berkeley police officer told a daily reporter, “I don’t feel elected officials are going to solve the drug problem. I’m convinced that to solve the problem what we need is a higher moral attitude. If my son was doing drugs, I’d want the police to arrest him.”
The Oakland Block Party Council, which is directed by Kiteley, holds monthly block parties and annual marches through high crime and drug areas. The block parties against drugs are massive neighborhood celebrations where residents get in touch with local resources for legal problems, health matters, or food and clothing needs.
Dubbed the Neighborhood Corps during the last half of the 1980s, the Neighborhood Community Block Party manual notes that churches have a basic orientation to reach out and help those that are around them: “In generation after generation church assistance and values have been the foundation of neighborhoods and communities. We believe in a Christian foundation, and the churches of Oakland stand ready to serve their neighborhoods and help coordinate the resources necessary to meet the needs of the people.”
The block parties are organized to encourage residents to interact with each other as well as to provide agencies, community organizations, and churches an outlet for meeting practical needs. “This means that we will not just concentrate only on housing or only on jobs, but we will endeavor to see that the total person is bettered and helped. This therefore means that every agency or organization has a piece of the pie.”
The block party movement has been notably successful. In 1988, a car was firebombed by a drug dealer on Apricot Street – but the car was owned by a block party captain. Lt. Peoples commented that the dealer was driven out of the neighborhood and “they don’t mess with her anymore.” On 67th Avenue, an effective home alert group has literally driven the drug dealers out of the area. Kiteley added that when giving seminars on dealing with drug pushers in the neighborhood, their theme has been “Just Say Go!”
Last year the group broke new ground in holding its first community health fair, which drew 2500 participants. “We had doctors, nurses, and mobile units out there volunteering their time. We also prayed for the sick,” said Kiteley. Held at Fremont High School, the fair offered a gamut of services from free blood pressure checks, AIDs prevention information, to items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and diapers.
Besides fueling the vision for reformation of the city for Shiloh’s members, the block party movement has also brought unprecedented unity to Oakland churches. Kiteley said his family is also very involved: “My children cook hot dogs and give away food and clothing along with me.”
The three-year-old organization has received accolades and honors from city and state government officials. Kiteley, a pastor for 21 years who has traveled to 30 different nations, has gained the respect of the mayor’s office and city council for his persistence and diligence in bringing the gospel to areas where drugs, immorality, murder and poverty have attempted to rule the city.
Gov. George Deukmejian’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning honored the church for its outstanding crime prevention efforts. Shiloh was also recognized in 1988 by the California State Legislature for its “commitment and dedication to improving the quality of life for citizens in Oakland, California.” In 1988, Kiteley was honored by the National Crime Prevention Council.
His advice is sought by city officials and community organization leaders on how to best spend public funds on crime prevention efforts. In fact, Kiteley and his church have ventured into several areas usually left to government welfare agencies, and have experienced considerable effectiveness in addressing problems that local politicians and law enforcement officials could not solve. With the assistance of churches and mobilized citizenry, there has been a significant decrease in crime and drug traffic.
Shiloh Christian Fellowship appears to be on the cutting edge of a major trend for churches in the 1990s. They are also experiencing the reality of the words of Jesus Christ when He said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your father who is in heaven.”