“How Can You Have A Meeting About Us, Without Us?” A Pastor Rallies Young Voices

Gaston with church students in Bridgeport. Courtesy Yale Divinity School where he serves as associate director of admissions.

The Rev. Dr. Herron Gaston, senior pastor of Summerfield United Methodist Church, declares that young people must be at the table to engineer solutions to community trouble. Years ago he was told “how can you have a meeting about us, without us?” In response to recent community violence Gaston informs in the commentary that follows the formation of a “Citizens Review Committee that will meet regularly in consultation with key stakeholders from the community to begin to devise an aggressive community plan of action to help restore the image of Bridgeport, and to begin implementing best practices in a concerted effort to save our youth from all forms of violence, and to eradicate gun-violence in our City.”

Gaston also shares insight into ongoing youth programs at his church. For background on Gaston see here.

Over the past few weeks, our City has been plagued with gun violence, which has left community leaders wondering what we can do to help save our youth.

I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about ways in which we can help to improve the life of our beloved community. As a pastor in this community and a national youth advocate who has worked with members of Congress to address youth related concerns particularly in inner-cities for nearly a decade, I think that I bring a professional and unique perspective to this issue. I believe it is mission critical to engage our youth in substantive dialogue and to attempt to drill down on what the root of the problem is–so that we can move closer towards a solution in curbing violence in our City, which is a first meaningful step towards real progress.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “violence is the language of the unheard.” Therefore, perhaps, the surge in violence that we are witnessing is a ground swelling of pent-up frustration on the part of our youth in response to a shadowy mirroring of the systemic and epistemic violence of years of benign neglect by those who control the levers of power who have often turned a blind eye to the plight of the marginalized.

Hence, I believe that often those who are closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Thus, in order to truly address this humanitarian crises, we must invite our young people to the table. I once heard a young person tell me, “how can you have a meeting about us, without us?” This statement has stuck with me for nearly a decade and serves as a constant reminder to ensure that all voices are represented at the “change table.” And as a part of my leadership as senior pastor of SUMC, I have consistently placed young people on key administrative boards where they have decision-making authority within the church.

This has not always been lauded as the most popular idea by more seasoned congregants; however, it is the right thing to do. We cannot continue to apply old-school remedies to new-school tactics. I believe there is something to be said about why we are endowed with two ears and one mouth: so that we can be more expedient to listen than we are to speak. And our young people have substantive things to add to the conversation.

Moreover, I think that we need to inject a sense of pride and hope back into our community, where young people feel that they can be constructive agents of change in their respective communities. For example, we need to invest in recreational programs for our youth, mentoring programs, vocational training, and job placement initiatives to name a few. I know up close and personal, that if we make the right kind of investment in our young people, we will see a reciprocal investment.

For instance, four years ago my business partner and I started a youth program entitled: Youth With A Purpose, where we focus on character development, education, mentoring, and counseling for at-risk teens in Bridgeport through Summerfield United Methodist Church. As a result of this program, we have consistently placed over 36 young people (from Bridgeport) a year into local colleges and universities. These young people are from all parts of Bridgeport, and they consistently give back to their community through their time, talent, and service.

This is a clear signal that great things are happening in Bridgeport and that our young people possess exceptional potential and promise for the future. Nevertheless, these are not the stories that are highlighted about our young people in the media, and these are often the programs that are severely underfunded, but are critically necessary for the flourishing of our community and your youth. Our YWAP program has gained wide recognition from Governor Malloy, Mayor Ganim’s Office, as well as members of Congress.

I am not suggesting that we don’t have significant challenges to address as a community with respect to ongoing violence, and certainly we must all work to do something about helping to change that negative image. As a community we must convey extremely strong and clear standards against violence, and we must work together with community leaders, parents, public officials, law enforcement, churches, schools, and other relevant groups to provide alternatives to violent or criminal lifestyles. And I believe that together we can forge a better way forward. Change doesn’t happen from the top down, but the bottom up. We cannot sit idly by while our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters blood is being shed in the streets.

Therefore, in the New Year, I look forward to forming a Citizens Review Committee that will meet regularly in consultation with key stakeholders from the community to begin to devise an aggressive community plan of action to help restore the image of Bridgeport, and to begin implementing best practices in a concerted effort to save our youth from all forms of violence, and to eradicate gun violence in our City.

This is a clarion call in that we must move from rhetoric to praxis. And from mere conversation to meticulous and methodical practical implementation. I stand ready to work with the leadership of this City, community leaders, our young people, and any other groups or stakeholders who have a vested interest in the prosperity of Bridgeport. We cannot delay. For the blood of martyrs are summoning us to take a stand. In conclusion, in the words of my beloved fraternal brother, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today; we are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.” I hope that you will join me and others as we work together to restore the reputation of our beloved City.



  1. Piper Pink and Ron, remember that if Rev. Dr. Herron Gaston is on the Civil Service Commission Board he had to be appointed by Mayor Ganim and Ernie wasn’t the endorsed candidate from the 139th. 1 + 1 is still two. Just saying.

    1. Mr.Donald Day…that is a good catch. W
      ow….interesting. We all know how “effective” the Bridgeport Civil Service Commission Board is! Maybe Dr.Gaston should reflect on ALL of his activities. Hypocrisy is one of the worst traits that any civic leader can offer to the community. If Dr. Gaston wants to move forward with his “Citizens Review Committee” maybe he should resign from the Civil Service Commission to remove any question of conflict of interest.

    2. Don, you don’t get appointed to the Bridgeport Civil Service Commission without the support of Mayor Ganim, Mario Testa and David Dunn, I hope this isn’t a Trojan Horse move. Joe Ganim got his second start by speaking at the Emancipation Day service on New Years day at Rev. Charlie Stallworth’s church, East End Baptist Tabernacle in the East End but Stallworth and Mayor Ganim are not on good terms and Stallworth is now running for mayor. Don, now my concern is Rev. Dr. Herron Gaston, senior pastor of Summerfield United Methodist Church, is he a Trojan Horse for Mayor Ganim in the black community? Let’s not forget that Joe Ganim’s base is black voters but the same voters didn’t like the fact Ganim decided that after serving only two years a mayor that Ganim decided that he wanted to run for governor without finishing his term as mayor to improve Bridgeport. Hopefully Rev. Dr. Herron Gaston will address these concerns.

      1. Ron,

        Thank you for your message. I welcome a conversation. I am unfamiliar with the assertions you posit in your previous post. My modus operandi has always been towards the upliftment and betterment of communities. I will continue do my part as a private citizen and pastor of this community to uphold my end of the shared communal bargain with respect to being in service to each other. Many blessings for a wonderful New Year.

  2. Well, thank goodness rev Gaston is on the scene. He has informed us that “over the past few weeks, our City has been plagued with gun violence”. What a revelation! Thank you rev Gaston.

    I suppose he is too young to recall 1990 when there were 63 killings, mostly gang related. The killing has not stopped. Sadly, it is part of what society knows as ‘urban’ behavior.

    Activities for youth are a great idea. Perhaps rev Gaston and other reverends should organize parents city-wide to actually get involved in activities. My father was involved in Little League and Biddy Basketball I recall adults in my life being Cub Scout and Boy Scout leaders and involved in church and school based activities.

    The 36 Bridgeport youth that you claim your YWAP program assisted in entering college probably have responsible parents. Other ‘programs’ likely take credit for their success as well. The credit goes to the parents who provide a stable environment which teaches the difference between right and wrong.

    The youth that are involved in unproductive behavior and violence are likely part of what some disparagingly refer to as the ‘ghetto culture’ where their ‘family’ structure more closely resembles a feral cat colony.

    Have I offended anyone?

    Rev Gaston should not confuse the recognition of his YWAP program by elected officials with their usual pandering.

    Rev Gaston is quite impressed by his thoughts and words. Perhaps we should forgive him for his youthful exuberance, but reserve judgement until he does more than just pontificate.

  3. Tom,

    Thank you for your negative commentary. I appreciate it. It’s people like you who inspire hope and change in the community. If you are not a part of the solution, you, sir, are a part of the problem. Do not come for me unless I send for you! Educational classes are in session you are free to come learn some lessons. We meet 4 days a week. I think my track record speaks for itself. Wishing you all the very best for a prosperous New Year!

      1. Frank,

        Thank you for your message. I bring you comfort if that is your issue and disappointment if that is your concern. As a theologian, we are called to be concerned about the plight of humanity and to work to transform communities into an oasis of peace and justice. This is the theological underpinning that I chose to espouse, and the eschatological hope that I chose to adopt.

        I am not sure what sacred text you subscribe to, but theoretically, all of them demonstrate a compassionate response towards humanity. And, arguably, regardless of your theological position, all could benefit from a transformation of the heart, where we show love and compassion for all. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If serving humanity and transforming systems is serving two God’s, then I would rather be caught doing that, rather than persecuting others for trying to make a difference in the world.
        My hermeneutical principle bends towards social progress and to promote human flourishing. I have no interest in engaging in hateful rhetoric. Like Dr. King once said: “I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great of a burden to bear.” I will continue to raise my voice for the betterment of humanity and refuse to return evil for evil. I don’t know you personally, but I surmise, that we all want what is best for the youth of this City.
        If you would like to engage in sensible dialogue, I am willing to extend my hand, if you are willing to un-clinch your fist. Let’s grab a cup of coffee.

        1. Dr. Gaston…. Thank you for your reply. I am impressed with your erudition and care and concern for the plight of those peoples near and far from you.But I will be direct. At least on my part, I am intrigued with your participation on the Bridgeport Civil Service Commision. Maybe we can grab a cup of coffee.

  4. Rev. Gaston, thank you for reply and I wish you a blessed and Happy New Year. My concern is you being appointed to the Civil Service Commission is a very important position in this City which requires doing what is best for Mayor Ganim and DTC Chairman Mario Testa and Personnel Director David Dunn and their adgena. So what type of a relationship do you have with Mayor Ganim and how were you selected for the Civil Service Commission?

    1. Hi Ron,

      Thank you for your message. I welcome a future conversation with you. Should you like, please contact my secretary at my church, and she can arrange for us to meet. Thank you for the public discourse, and I look forward to meeting you soon. Wishing you and your loved ones all my best for a prosperous New Year.

  5. Rev first of all you are using to many big words for us OIB readers, modus operandi is that like a car part or something. 🙂
    Second, Day, Tom in not being white. He’s being racist. Saying Tom is just being white for his racism is kinda being racist. Stop being racist. 🙂
    Third, Frank a positions and advocating are not God’s. However I believe the passage you are referring to is ” “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” I say God and money are master of a different kind like apples and oranges. When speaking in a relation of one. The two masters you can’t serve is love and lust.
    Forth Reverend, being a Theologian and speaking of fruits and color. Ernie and I have been having an conversation on what color was Jesus?
    Fifth. While there are many theological position regarding sacred text. like Islam and Judaism who do not view Jesus as God and as a practicing Catholic who adheres to the views of Jesus’s mother, Mary as a God. So Frank you can serve Two Gods. 🙂
    Six, The oasis of peace and justice on earth you speak of will only come when the, Messiah, Seconding, Mahdi. returns.
    Seventh, Reverend while I can not honestly adhere to, “If you are not a part of the solution, you, are a part of the problem, for some will just turn their head and say its not my problem. but I can say you can’t be part of the solution if you are part of the problem. Meaning you can’t expect to solve a violent crime issue with out the police help and if the police are part of the problem how can they be part of the of the solution? I heard they have their cams… I guess one problem at a time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhtOGkUqVTU

    1. One last thing,technically you can’t serve love and lust, My girl can have all the lesbian sex she want, as long as she keeps it on the “down low” If fact I encourage it. Thank you Korean Jesus. 🙂

  6. Rev. Gaston, thank you for the invitation but the question that I asked you is something that those who read OIB is right in front of them and we all can see and that is you have been appointed to the Civil Service Commission, that’s public information but we all know that to get appointed the mayor has to select that person with the support of Mario Testa the Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and the Director of the Civil Service Commission David Dunn. This is something that the readers on OIB need to hear from you publicly and not just to Ronald Mackey, why did the mayor select you and what did he tell you. The mayor made a political decision by appointing you Rev. Gaston.

  7. Rev. Gaston welcome to conversation on Only In Bridgeport.

    It is a unique site in my opinion for the further development of this City because unlimited rights to “write or speak out” are not provided through our City Charter, appointment by the Mayor or approval of the City Council. OIB is a right to freedom of expression, extended to all. (There are limited rules that are occasionally re-articulated, by the blog originator, Lennie Grimaldi, and his trusted sidekick, Ray Fusci, last I heard). But you probably already know that.

    From 2016-early 2018 a community group met with Acting Chief A J Perez on a monthly basis to explore the phenomenon of youth violence. The group was led by Council of Churches director, Cass Shaw, as well as other religious community representatives along with folks who have worked in schools, jails, release programs, and just plain folks. Though trying mightily, this “coalition” did not get very far in arriving at an understanding of what “community policing” means to the Police Department or how they see their current operation working to change the expression of violence among youth of the community.

    Perhaps you will serve the public in your Civil Service position? That service might regularly include Open, Accountable, Transparent and Honest Governance for the benefit of all the public. Within Civil Service functions you might find an answer to the question of why the Civil Service leader is still “ACTING” after a decade leading this City function. Share the answer with the public. There are other ACTING heads. When will they be tested?

    Please be sure to sign the City statement of residence during the month of January. Your Committee bears the doubtful fame of having an out of town resident as leader of a City Committee. What would the youth of Bridgeport say when gathered at their place at the table about that history lesson when so informed? Time will tell.

  8. Civil Service Commission
    Five members, five year terms
    Four members appointed by the Mayor
    One member elected by city employees; this elected member shall be an employee of the city of Bridgeport. This member is permitted to hold paid public office and/or position.
    In October of every year, Mayor appoints a member for a five-year term, with the exception of the member who is elected every fifth year.
    No more than two members of the same political party.
    Members serve until a successor is appointed and has qualified.
    Meet 2nd Tuesday at 2 PM at City Hall

    Melva Falberg (R)
    2445 Park Avenue
    Bridgeport, CT 06604
    Term Expires: 10/1/2017

    Rev Herron Keyon Gaston (D)
    110 Clermont Avenue
    Bridgeport, CT 06610
    Term Expires: 10/1/2021
    Richard P. Rodgers (D)
    94 Soundview Avenue
    Bridgeport, CT 06606
    Term Expires 10/1/2010

    *Salvatore Emanuel, Employee (*Elected member)
    225 Lighthouse Avenue
    Stratford, CT 06615
    Term Expires:10/1/2018

  9. Below is a description of the Bridgeport Civil Service Commission is committed to hiring but in 11 years the Bridgeport Fire Department has NOT any females to be firefighters and no one is troubled by that, not the Bridgeport Civil Service Commission, not the City Council, not Mayor Ganim and definitely not David Dunn the City’s Personnel Director, there’s no problem to discriminate against females and nobody cares.

    City Job Listings
    The City of Bridgeport Civil Service Commission is committed to hiring the very best people. We seek to recruit and hire a diverse workforce and we believe in equal employment. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age and wrongful discrimination in hiring or other employment practices is not tolerated.

  10. Will Ron maybe the Reverend was place on the Commission to address some of the issues regarding the Civil Service Commission and it’s process. You always bring up race regarding city employment and appointments, be it Finch, Ganim. Yet when a black or Latino are appointed or employed you claim them to be puppets of Ganim and Mario. I’m not a rocket political savant, Just ask Maria. She’ll tell you. 🙂 Ganim didn’t just happen to wander into Stallworth’s church and proclaimed his “Mia Copa” (for the Reverend Gatson) 🙂 and Stallworth didn’t just wander into the Reverend’s promo video that didn’t have any female speakers. JS. 🙂 Stallworth, IOP, has a far less chance than Moore to bet Joe, and if she does enter the race he will divide the black vote. while many here are encouraging Lopez or even Christ to run, and it is yet to be seen and that would throws the split between the two main minority groups, blacks and Latino. When you talk about the Bridgeport’s Machine that machine is now 70% minority vote. So at some point with a 100% Democrat rule. Democracy has gone out the window and with 70% majority minority the race factory has now turned into a group, facton, or teams per, se.

  11. Rev. Dr. Herron Gaston, I asked you this question, “So what type of a relationship do you have with Mayor Ganim and how were you selected for the Civil Service Commission?” Your reply to me was, ” I welcome a future conversation with you. Should you like, please contact my secretary at my church, and she can arrange for us to meet.” Well, Rev. Gaston, I think this YouTube gives a partial answer and I’m sure that there might be other public comments from you about Mayor Ganim.


  12. A positive relationship? Maybe it’s on the down low 🙂
    Ron you said, “My concern is you being appointed to the Civil Service Commission is a very important position in this City” What a black man can’t have an important position within the city?
    People,this same race on race racism got to stop.
    If drug addicts and their actions are now an illness instead of a criminal offense because its in the non-minority communities. Then Liberal White on white racism is also a mental illness too.
    I mean denying someone service solely because he is white with a Republican Trump MAGA hat is the same as denying that black dude service because of his color. Extreme Liberals, you’re not stopping hate and racism within white people, you’re just changing the color, ” ERNIE” 🙂 Black people, white people crazy. 🙂 Thank, hey Zeus, I’m affluent, “MARIA” 🙂 You can’t make this stuff up. 🙂

  13. Keep up the good work that you are doing. We need you in our community. Do not get caught up with the naysayers. They are envious of potential. You have what it take and it shows don’t allow these jealous crabs pull you to the bottom of the toxic sea. I have not met you personally but I know people who know you sharon, veronica, shatavia, Erica, and Paul who all have attended your church. They told me so many great things about you, and thank you for helping my uncle Elon when he was in trouble.


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