Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

D.C. Church Aims to Curb Violence

Story by Michele Joseph

As a school psychologist and the lay pastor of Liberty Mission Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C., Donald Ross always looks for ways to connect with people. 

Teaching Against Rage and Guns while Embracing Talents and Social Skills—called T.A.R.G.E.T.S.S.  —  was created to do just that for students whose environment leaves them a witness to gun violence. 

Through this program, he and his team—which includes his wife, home-based business owner Karen, and Maria Williams, the church Community Services director —give teens tools to build a better life.

In December, the church held its second graduation for the six-week course, which is funded by a city mini grant.

“Based on research we have a core understanding of how juvenile violence gets started,” Ross said.

The team teaches the students peaceable means of conflict resolution. The teens learn how to recognize and respond to authority. Then Karen shows them how home-based businesses can lead to entrepreneurship opportunities and entrance into careers. The students also receive mentorship and food. 

“We believe those things are missing in the community,” Ross said. “Because those things are not present, kids have the opportunity to go off and get involved in gun violence.”

The crime rate in D.C. has increased. In 2023, 274 homicides were committed, a 20-year high, according to the Metropolitan Police website. More than 3,000 firearms were also recovered last year.

Ross knows that some of his students don’t need to leave home to face gun violence. 

The T.A.R.G.E.T.S.S. program was inspired by interactions with one of his former students at Anacostia High School in Southeast D.C.

Gregory Bowman was assigned to Ross in his senior year. By then, he’d already lost a cousin, who had been shot and killed in the city. 

“If you know about Anacostia and southeast D.C., there’s a lot of things that make you shy away from God,” Bowman said. 

However, he now sees meeting Ross as a blessing from the Lord.

“When I explained my life, He seen something that no one else seen,” Bowman said.

Gun violence was prevalent in his home when people argued, Ross said. 

“He told us occasions where people would just raise guns in the house,” Ross said. “He’d just walk downstairs and see this.”

Ross helped Bowman enter classes at Washington Adventist University, which amazed Bowman who never thought he would be able to attend college. During his first week of school, Bowman’s brother was shot and killed.

“I could have been with him that day,” he said. “I know that God took me out of that area.”

Now, the team at Liberty Mission is helping more students.

Preshous Jacobs, 16, graduated from T.A.R.G.E.T.S.S. in December. The graduates receive books, a book bag, a t-shirts and a small cash gift.

Jacobs said she appreciated the lessons on how to deal with those in authority in a variety of situations and the safe environment the program provided.

“It’s a place to go, get out of the house, somewhere safe,” the Anacostia High School junior said. “It’s proactive and educational.” 

Eighteen students have participated in the program, which has run each fall for the past two years. It is hard for some to finish because the topic hits too close to home. One participant lost his brother during the program, Ross said. However, they do continue to come, even if they haven’t completed all the requirements. 

“I think the biggest thing is that Donald has established a good relationship,” said his wife, Karen. “Young people if they don’t know you, they are not going to come just to come. They like the connection.”

 It has led to other ways of reaching the students for Christ.

“It enabled us to connect with families that we didn’t expect to connect with and neighborhood entities as well,” Donald Ross said. 

Students from T.A.R.G.E.T.S.S. attend church services and play on the church’s basketball team, said Karen Ross.

They also have a Friday Night Lights youth group that sprouted from the T.A.R.G.E.T.S.S. program, Donald Ross said. 

“It has given us a way to let our light shine,” he said.













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