In 1991, several clergy from Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach began meeting to discuss the problems facing their congregants. Crime was devastating their neighborhoods, drugs were being sold on every corner, affordable housing could not be found, and the list went on and on. While they could (and would) continue their efforts to provide help to those in need suffering from these problems, their conversations always ended with the common understanding that they felt biblically called to provide not just charity, but justice.
After a few months of deliberation, it was decided that if they were to pool their most valuable resource – their people – they might actually have some power to do justice and solve some of these problems. After a few more months of organizing to get things off the ground, PEACE was born.
In its nearly 25 year history, PEACE has accomplished great things in Palm Beach County:
- Early on, gains were made with the School District, getting them to put a research-based reading curriculum into low-performing schools. Leaders were also able to get city governments to make improvements to several neighborhood parks.
- In 2008, PEACE got the School District to make significant improvements to the County's system of alternative education.
- In 2009, the group succeeded in getting the CEO of the Health Care District to make a 25% increase in enrollment in health care coverage.
- In 2010, PEACE succeeded in getting the Board of County Commissioners to allocate a million dollars to the affordable housing trust fund and create a dedicated stream of funding that results in an allocation of a few million each year beginning in 2014.
- In 2012, PEACE secured passage of a Wage Theft Resolution, and the creation of a Wage Theft Docket within the 15th Judicial Circuit. To date, this program has recovered over $300,000 in owed wages.
- In 2013, PEACE got the School District to reduce out-of-school suspensions by 40%. That same year, PEACE got the city of West Palm Beach to establish and fund a Neighborhood Accountability Board program, which takes youthful offenders and puts them in a research-based program proven to turn their lives around.
- In 2014, got the Sheriff to stop allowing ICE into the county jail to deport people for misdemeanors, stopping the separation of families and saving valuable taxpayer dollars.
How we have been able to do this is through following a process of building up the power of our congregations to turn out a large number of people to our Nehemiah Action Assembly each year. This number has risen dramatically – in 2009, we had about 1,000 people at our Nehemiah Action; this past year (2015), that number had risen to 2,600.