"Love and unity - that's what's missing in our community."
That was the message Minister Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, with the Nation of Islam, brought to about 50 Chattanooga community and religious leaders, activists and citizens at Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church on Saturday afternoon.
Abdul Muhammad, Louis Farrakhan's Southern regional representative, was guest speaker at the summer kickoff for the We Are the Ones Coalition effort to unite the city's communities to save their youth from drugs and violence.
"The basic goal is to unite our leaders," said Kevin Muhammad, local Nation of Islam minister. "To unite our churches, mosques, organizations, to come together to solve the problems of drugs and gangs and violence in our community. And if we can do that, we will start to give some relief to the parents who are losing their loved ones."
Both men said locals shouldn't expect government to do for them what they need to do for themselves, and should realize they won't make any solid or lasting societal changes without the help of God or Allah.
The city has seen around 50 shootings so far this year. In March, as a part of Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative, 25 men associated with violent crime in Chattanooga were called in and offered options for the future, if they can stop their violent criminal behavior.
Abdul Muhammad suggested that one way to help youth get ahead would be for churches, mosques and synagogues to call on their members with skills -- such as carpenters, electricians and stonemasons -- to teach youths a trade, because college education has not paid off as it was supposed to.
Interwoven through the event, young local singers and musicians performed to keep things upbeat, each performance preceded by Kevin Muhammad telling the audience "Let's turn it up!"
T-Ran Gilbert, a Christian pop and R&B singer and the son of City Councilman Russell Gilbert, performed a couple of songs off his recently released EP.
Several local government officials attended, including Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw and Councilmen Yusuf Hakeem and Larry Grohn.
Kevin Muhammad said the coalition will contact community leaders and members, and continue strategizing how to put into practice the solutions that members come up with.
"This was proactive," he said. "This was not something that was done as a reaction; this is something that was done proactively. So I think the outpouring of love from the community was tremendous."
Contact staff writer Alex Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.