SELMA, AL (WSFA) - A bold challenge has been issued to church leaders in Selma as part of a new program to combat violence and crime.
Pastors from churches across the city met with Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson at the Selma Convention Center Thursday afternoon to discuss the new initiative.
Jackson says Selma has a serious gang problem and called the group assembled before him the "backbone of the community," urging them to help make a sincere change with his unique outreach idea.
He asked each of the pastors to adopt a local gang member by mentoring them and placing them in a leadership position around other responsible adults, like choir members or ushers or involving them in church sports activities.
"We can't bury our heads in the sand. I want this to be effective," Jackson said.
He mentioned several recent shootings and murders in Selma he believes are all gang-related.
He suggested that the church give the people they adopt some duties and support them and encourage them along the way, but reminded pastors that change is not going to happen overnight.
He believes this is the best way to reach out to those caught up in gangs and engage them.
"To make them feel positive about themselves. What we're trying to do is develop a conscience for some of these young folks. We don't want them killing people, robbing people and they don't even blink an eye," Jackson said.
The district attorney wants to meet with pastors a year from now to discuss their progress and will be checking in with them periodically to see how things are going.
Pastors asked for some specialized training to learn the best methods to use in order to identify potential gang members and connect with them, which the District Attorney's Office said they would coordinate and set up.
Church leaders think the concept is a good start in addressing the problem and indicated that they will be participating in the program.
"I think it will help. I think there's more dialogue that needs to be done concerning it, but I think it's a great idea. We have problems in Selma and I think it's going to take a plethora of ideas and people working together in order to combat crime and gangs in our city," said John Grayson, Pastor of Gospel Tabernacle Church on Summerfield Road in Selma.
"One good thing that's coming out of this is that we're getting together to work on this and I believe every church does have people with a loose definition of gangs that are in there. And as we all start ministering where we are with what we've got, we can turn this around," added Daniel Martin, Pastor of Bethel Church.
The district attorney thinks his idea will work in Selma and other cities across the country.
"Most of the country has gang issues. This is an idea that just came to me one night and I feel like this would really be successful here in Selma and Dallas County. I wanted to get it started here so it can spread," Jackson said.