Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 3:
The Community Forum

A community forum typically consists of a gathering of individuals who share a common concern. They come together to address that concern and discuss steps which may be taken to effectively address it. The National PTA (Parent Teachers Association) has a method for organizing a community forum which they call 10 Steps to Organizing a Community Forum  and it is a powerful tool for achieving its goal of guided, intelligent, effective community action.

A community forum has its own integrity as an activity in which the community may participate and as a means of potentially reducing gang activity and youth violence. It may also be viewed as a way to build a community-wide consensus that there is a need to address the gang (or any) situation and set the stage for a longer-term building of coalitions.

10 Steps to Organizing a Community Forum
From the National PTA, Kids need a future, not funerals..., 1998, 
. Reproduced here with permission from the National PTA.

Step 1: Create an action team or committee

Call a meeting of your PTA board or form a special committee to discuss organizing a town meeting or community forum. Your committee may include PTA officers and members, educators and school officials, business and community leaders, and others who have a stake in safeguarding children against violence in your community.

Step 2: Identify priority issues or the focus of the forum

Your committee should identify the priority issues and needs of families and schools in your community to help you choose the focus of the forum. Could the main purpose or focus of the forum be to: Identify problems and possible solutions? Evaluate current programs and services and make changes or improvements? Identify needed programs and who could implement them? Find funding sources or continued support for violence prevention initiatives? Realize that any one of these things—or a combination of a few—would work as a focus for your forum.

Step 3: Develop a plan or set of goals

Set goals for the forum—those things you hope will result from this meeting. Make goals realistic and achievable (e.g., identify specific major problems in the community; identify which of those problems the forum body might be able to address). The forum body should be asked to make a commitment to pursue those goals. Identify what each organization can do and by when; plan for a follow-up meeting. This part of the step will become clearer as stakeholders and organizations are identified.

Step 4: Identify the stakeholders

Identify the stakeholders within your community who would have an interest in participating in a forum. Identify the groups of citizens within the community who have the ability to influence public action, opinion, policy decisions, or who have a stake in the outcome. Within each group of citizens are organizations that serve the interests of the members of the groups they support. Determine what organizations or community leaders should be represented in your forum.

Step 5: Determine the format and logistics of the event you're planning

Determine the format of your forum. Will it be small, with only the leaders of organizations invited to attend? Or will it be large, with a blanket community invitation being issued? Begin to develop the forum agenda. Who will be invited to speak? Will each of the attending organizations give greetings? Will speakers take questions from the audience? How long will the forum last? Be sure to identify team members who will be responsible for:


Publicizing the forum


Contacting forum speakers/attendees


Conducting the forum


Overseeing media activities

Once the format and interest level have been determined, set a date, time, and place. Procure meeting site, license (if necessary), audiovisual equipment/operators, lighting, staging, chairs, and tables. Make arrangements for parking. When determining forum logistics, decide who will be responsible for the setup as well as tear down and cleanup.

Step 6: Secure support and commitments

For optimal success, have all forum participants identify what resources their groups will provide to lend support. Identify and secure all financial and material resources needed (rental fees, licenses, equipment, materials for mailings, advertising fees, postage), and determine the number of volunteers required to manage the event. When organizations commit to action steps or support, make sure there is someone identified to keep a record of those commitments.

Step 7: Invite speakers and participants

With the organizations that have shown interest and agreed to lend support, determine who will address the major issues of concern. Once you’ve identified your potential speakers, invite them to present at the forum. Include in the invitation an explanation of the focus of the forum, what the speaker should address, length of speech, and other details such as time, date, and place. For those speakers who agree to present, let them know who will be in the audience, what time to arrive, and ask if they have any special audiovisual needs. Also ask them if they’ll have handouts.

Make sure speakers receive any fliers or other promotional materials you’re sending to your invited audience. Let them know the media have been invited, so they can be prepared for photographers, reporters, television lights, or one-on-one interviews following the forum.

Step 8: Plan publicity - media coverage

Develop a promotional plan to publicize and gain awareness of the forum. Identify the most effective means to invite people to participate and attend. You can use community organizations’ newsletters or mailing lists, newspaper articles and ads, radio PSAs or announcements, direct mail, posters, or a combination of methods. Be sure to begin publicizing the event as soon as the date, place, time, and speakers are finalized.

Develop a media plan and identify who will be responsible for media activities prior to, during, and following the event. Identify who in the media will be invited and how (phone call, fax, press release). Begin media contacts two weeks in advance of the event. 

When you’re ready to send out a press release about the forum, cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the forum; make sure to include the name and phone number of a main contact or spokesperson for the event. Work with those responsible for the setup and logistics of the event to ensure there is adequate space and electrical hookup for media personnel and equipment.

Step 9: Hold the event

Finalize plans for what should be achieved as a result of the forum. Be sure to develop and adhere to an agenda for the event. Include questions the entire group is to address, such as identifying problems and solutions, developing a plan, making commitments to put the plan into action, and defining how the results will be measured. Invite speakers to attend a brief pre-event meeting or dry-run session the day of the forum.

Event coordinators should arrive well in advance of the event to check staging and audiovisual setup. Have your public relations (PR) team there early to meet the press and to welcome speakers and guests. Set up a place for press to conduct interviews or ask questions of speakers/panelists following the event.

Visit this page for a list of possible topics to present at a community-wide forum.

Step 10: Evaluate the outcome and discuss a follow-up event

Following the forum, be sure to send thank-you notes to speakers and send follow-up information to the organizations that attended, summarizing what happened and outlining the commitments or action plans each group made. Make sure your own group is implementing the actions it agreed to. Begin work on setting up an evaluation meeting. Notify the media of what the group did and what will come next.

Community forums educate, and an educated public may be more responsive to efforts to reduce gang activity and youth violence than an uneducated one. You'll probably find the media forthcoming in providing coverage for your event (since it's based on a controversial and timely topic - gangs and youth violence. Properly planned, the event can be a catalyst for needed change.

A Community Forum Success Story

I'd like to share a little story with you regarding community forums and what they can produce. As a result of my research on gangs, I have been asked to speak to many groups. One group asked me to speak at a community forum. The forum planners invited 250 community leaders and nearly 160 attended the meeting. That impressive showing was indicative of the concern the attendees had for the problem at hand. The group included representatives from affected neighborhood associations and from every social institution in the community (i.e., the local schools, faith institutions, mental health organizations, government office representatives, social agency directors, media personalities, business organizations, and politicians - city, county, state, and federal).

In preparation for the meeting I gathered data on: the number of juveniles referred to the county's juvenile services; the extent of child abuse; in-school assaults and suspensions; the number of alleged gang members on probation or parole in the county; and the number of juveniles coming to the local family violence center, substance abuse center, and victim center. I also provided a profile of gang activity and youth violence deduced from several interviews with local police and sheriffs. 

As a result of that meeting a group was formed which met for over a year as they went about creating a force in the community for drawing attention to the plight and needs of local youth. A "grade card" was also developed which provides an annual update on the statistics I had gathered and other data as well. I am told that the impact of that initial community forum can still be felt today.

A community-wide task force or council on gangs and youth violence also has a great deal of potential for reducing gang activity and youth violence and is our next topic.


© 2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.