"I miss having my children do the things that I used to do." Members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) heard sentiments like this one over and over again as they canvassed their "target" neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Whether it's going out in the evenings, trick or treating on Halloween night, or walking down to the Boy's and Girl's Club alone, current urban reality often does not allow activities that people outside the inner city take for granted.
CPT's Project in Urban Peacemaking is an effort to help neighborhoods reclaim such everyday freedoms. The project is sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and General Conference Mennonite churches of North America. From September through December 1994, team members Jeff Heie, John Reuwer, Tammy Krause, and myself worked with local people in Washington, D.C., to create solutions to problems of violence and security. Two team members spent much of the previous spring searching for local peacemakers interested in applying their lessons from the peace movement to dangerous urban situations. Several groups in Columbia Heights, including the Sojourners Neighborhood Center, invited CPT to join them.
Columbia Heights is a predominantly low-income neighborhood in the heart of the diamond that the District of Columbia forms. It is in transition, with many white, Latino, and Asian people moving into what was not so long ago an almost completely African-American neighborhood. An increasing number of middle- and upper-income homeowners are moving in down the block from subsidized apartment buildings.
In spite of five schools and several GED and educational enrichment programs in an eight-block radius, at least 48 percent of its adult residents have less than a high school education. In a recent 18-month period, according to police statistics, there were 12 homicides, 257 assaults, and 75 other drug-related crimes in a 12-square-block area.