70805 residents believe faith can break crime cycle

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Many residents in the 70805 zip code who have seen the area change and the crime grow certainly believe the efforts of the BRAVE project are a step in the right direction. They also believe BRAVE can't stop crime on its own.

Every day, Seabell "Mama" Thomas, prays for her community. She lives in the 70805, the area with the highest crime rate in the Capital City, and the focus of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project.

Thomas has watched her neighborhood grow and change for nearly 50 years. She blames the rise in violence on a youth that has little guidance or education. In front of St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church, she kneels each day before a statue of the Virgin Mary, asking for help.

"These young people out here are angry," said Thomas.

Roena Wilford has lived in 70805 since the early 1970s. She said her neighborhood had a bright future when she moved there with her family. But in recent years, she was robbed twice. She said the investigations that followed left her without hope that anyone would come to justice.

"[I felt] very vandalized, violated," she said. "It's like, 'What's up with this?'"

Both women worry about everyone who lives there and hope the efforts of BRAVE will bring some calm and safety to the streets. BRAVE was launched in May with the goal of using community outreach to directly address and prevent crime, enlisting the help of local churches and leaders.

Several months in, the program has a big boost with a $1.5 million federal grant. The money will be used for crime research and mentoring.

Those extra steps are what Thomas and Wilford believe are desperately needed.

"What's at core is joblessness and education level," said Wilford who worries her beloved neighborhood won't be able to overcome its reputation for crime.

However, they also believe it will take more than deputies and officers in the streets to stop crime. Thomas said the biggest change she has seen in the community came after her church walked the streets praying.

"When we stepped out in the community and asked the people to pray to cut back on the killing, we have seen a decrease," said Thomas.

"The community has to gain the trust and that trust will come with products," said Wilford.

The women added community involvement will be the make or break factor in BRAVE's success, but they have hope for the future.

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