AMERICA HAS some 65,000 black churches with 23 million adherents. So far, DiIulio's observations suggest that they "are outperforming many secular alternatives in terms of primary and secondary crime prevention." He would like to see them able to compete for government and private funding to support their social-service initiatives.
DiIulio believes he can help by synthesizing the findings of existing studies on the efficacy of faith-based interventions, constructing an inventory of programs conducted by some 50 African-American churches in 20 big cities, and coordinating the efforts of their leaders to find financial assistance above and beyond the good-will offerings of church members. He has created an organization called PRRAY (Partnership for Research on Religion and At-Risk Youth), which includes institutional and individual members, to aid him in achieving his objectives. He writes essays setting forth his ideas at a furious pace and speaks with fervor to organizations that might include potential supporters, including the Wharton School's Board of Overseers.
DiIulio is working through two groups in particular -- the Council on Crime in America, of which he is a member, and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV), an organization he directs that studies and develops programs for young people -- to highlight for foundations and government granting agencies the initiatives of people like Pastor Benjamin Smith in Philadelphia, the Rev. Eugene Rivers III in Boston, and Dr. William Howard, Jr. in New York.
Now 83, Smith built the Deliverance Evangelistic Church complex on the site of the bandbox once called Shibe Park and then Connie Mack Stadium. His church specializes in providing literacy training, prison fellowship, one-on-one drug counseling and rehabilitation, and much more to thousands of youth where, in another era, the Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies played baseball. Rivers, a former gang member who left Harvard to establish a youth outreach ministry in one of Boston's roughest neighborhoods, developed and implemented a plan to mobilize churches to combat youth violence and despair. Howard, the president of New York Theological Seminary, provides theology training to people whose communities are in crisis so they can empower and transform the places where they work and live.
PRRAY and P/PV are helping these African-American ministers and their counterparts in other cities build their capacity for good works by learning to describe, analyze, and evaluate their outreach efforts so as to establish their merit in the eyes of potential funders. In addition, DiIulio is seeking support to construct a national, site-specific databank about the range of faith-based initiatives that attempt to influence, guide, and rescue troubled children. He has begun research to identify the main administrative and other features of successful crime prevention programs, especially strategies designed to change the everyday lives of young people by strengthening their connections with neighborhood adults. Passing the hat, he raised some $40,000 in direct aid for inner-city youth ministries in his first fund-seeking foray. P/PV also provided the technical assistance necessary for a $750,000 foundation grant to support street-level ministry work in Boston. Over the summer, the group formally laid plans for a multi-million dollar PRRAY church-anchored youth and community development plan involving direct assistance, technical assistance, research and evaluation, education, and training in a dozen cities, including Philadelphia.
"I'm prepared to try a full court press to change the prospects for children who are most at risk," DiIulio says. "If it means having no university base of operations, I'm ready to pay that price." But it hasn't come to that yet. As he was last year, DiIulio remains in an extended half-time arrangement with Princeton. He is on leave this fall, and in the spring will teach a freshman seminar on Saving At-Risk Urban Youth, he says.
As DiIulio walks city streets with men and women of faith to document their human salvage operations, he will tell them they need "benchmarks to satisfy the funding community." He will tell the funding community "not to set their standards of proof so high that it will seem as if nothing works." For the foreseeable future, moreover, DiIulio also will be seeking out people, on the metropolitan periphery and in distant suburbs, who are willing to expand their definition of neighbor.