Dec. 13 was the day when ministers from 20 churches in the city dedicated their sermons to the problem of youth violence. It was especially significant as the family members of two boys lost to violence were honored by several of the churches, including Austin’s Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller. St. Johns’ pastor, Rev. Ira Acree, along with several ministers, recognized Willie Williams Jr., father of slain youth Willie Williams III, 17, who was shot to death on April 1, 2006; and Joseph Walker, grandfather/guardian of Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old beaten to death on Sept. 24.

Both men were awarded The 2009 Joseph Award for Outstanding Fatherhood on Dec. 11, which preceded a weekend joint effort by clergy to address youth violence.

One of the ministers in attendance, Rev. Cornelius Parks, said, “This was a stepping stone for the 20 ministers who are collaborating to stop the violence in the city of Chicago. It gives everybody an opportunity to share around and give the youth an opportunity for their voice to be heard – how it affects their lifestyle, how it affects the activities they partake in and how it affects their upbringing. They are talking about friends who were killed through gun violence; some are battered and abused, being jumped on. Just to hear their cry, just be able to listen to them is sufficient.

“Our next step, once they compile the mentorship program list, is going into the various schools. Instead of talking and talking, they will walk the walk.”

During the press conference, Joseph Walker said, “Youth are playing house in ‘our’ house. What kind of an example is this? Grandfathers have to be grandfathers 24 hours a day, fathers have to be fathers 24 hours a day, mothers have to be mothers 24 hours a day. This is a full-time job. Parents say, ‘I want my kids to like me.’ I don’t want my kids to like me, they don’t have to like me, I don’t care about that. I’ve got a job to do. His grandmother and I saw after my grandson, Derrion Albert. He went to Fenger High School by choice. I wanted him to go to Morgan Park. He told me, ‘Granddad, an A student is a A student anywhere.’

“It’s very important that the information gets exposed. It’s not just a Chicago problem, it’s not Mayor Daley’s problem – it’s us as fathers, it’s us as ministers, it’s our problem. One of the solutions is the mentoring program. When these ministers step up, the members of that congregation step up also, so I thank God for them. I’m going to pray for them and I’m going to work with them. If I’m on the South Side, I’m going to work with these ministers on the West Side. If our kids on the West Side knew more about the South Side of Chicago, they wouldn’t be afraid to go. If the kids on the South Side knew kids on the West Side, they wouldn’t be afraid.

“When I went to North Grand Central High School last week, the kids did not care about my ethic background. What they felt was the passion of a grandfather. This violence in our neighborhood is not just our problem; it is everybody’s problem. You guys in the media must step forward with us and help us get this word out. Help us to help our children, so they won’t say, ‘I won’t live to be 21,’ so we won’t have a 13-year-old child scared to go to school.

“If you don’t come from your heart,” he added, “you don’t get any attention.”

The Sunday services at Greater St. John Bible Church were standing room only. Three local youth spoke at each service.

For more information about the Willie Williams III Youth Foundation, call 773-629-5197.