By C.N. Staff Writer
Rev. Donald L. Isaac is a true born and bred Washingtonian. He grew up in ward 6 in the house where his 92-year old mother has lived for 60 years. He currently resides in ward 7 where he and his wife have lived for 30 years. Last year, Rev. Isaac became Co-Pastor of Southeast Tabernacle Baptist Church, where he now shares the pastoral responsibilities with his first cousin. His great grandfather founded the church and his uncle served as pastor of the church for over 50 years.
Professionally, Rev. Isaac’s entire career has been in public service. He began serving as a Business Manager for Laborer’s Local 960, a Plan Administrator for a Health and Welfare Trust Fund, twenty years of government service as an Auditor in the Office of the DC Auditor, and as the Financial Officer for the Council of the District of Columbia.
As he reflects on his life, Rev. Isaac counts his family as his most important asset. He has been married to the former Denise Lawson for thirty years and they have two children Donald Jr. a graduate of Morehouse and Georgetown and Deborah a third year student at
Drexel University. Along with his family, Rev. Isaac is passionate about his ministry which he defines as taking the Church from outside of the four walls to the community where the work of the Church is crucial and greatly needed.
In 1991 the District recorded 479 homicides and was deemed the “Murder Capital” of the United States. By 2000, the District’s homicide rate had dropped to 242 but an inordinate number of these cases involved youth under the age of 18. It was in 2000 that the East of the River Clergy, Police, Community Partnership (ERCPCP) was incorpor
The Ford Foundation was an initial funder of ERCPCP and they decided they wanted an ordained clergy member (not a full time Pastor) to lead this collaboration of clergy, police and community to address this major public safety problem in our community. Rev. Isaac, who had decided to leave government in search of a full time ministry opportunity, was selected as the first Executive Director. Over the past thirteen years, Rev. Isaac has lead this organization from its infancy into a major player in work related to violence reduction, adult and juvenile reentry initiatives, educational achievement, workforce development, housing, and family reunification. Today, ERCPCP has 25 employees and consultants, east of the river focus, and city wide recognition. Dean Trulear, Old Testament Professor at Howard University and a representative of the Ford Foundation in 2000 says, “that this collaboration with the focus on reentry is a model for the nation in addressing a major issue plaguing not only the African American community, but the nation.”ated with the specific purpose of addressing this problem.
Even though ERCPCP was created in response to the problem of homicide and violence it is important that we realize that violence is a symptom. To be effective, we must address the conditions that create this type of violence. It is not a coincidence that violence, low academic achievement, teenage pregnancy is more prevalent in low income neighborhoods. Therefore, our approach is based on strategic partnerships, focused law enforcement, and comprehensive programming. In short, the organization focuses on the individual, their family and the environment where they reside.
Since its operational start in 2000, ERCPCP has experienced phenomenal growth. While it started with a staff of one, within the first year the staff had increased to ten people. Based on the funding from the Ford Foundation, ERCPCP was selected by Public/Private Ventures (PPV) to participate in the national research project, “Faith Based Work Among High Risk Youth.” In 2004, ERCPCP was also selected by the Bush Administration as one of 15 sites in “Ready4Work”, a White House program initiative designed to reverse the high rate of recidivism among returning citizens.
A new specialty for ERCPCP was born in 2005 when ERCPCP, in partnership with Johnson Memorial Baptist Church, purchased a 14 unit building that resulted in a partnership with CSOSA to provide transitional, independent and long term housing options for men returning from incarceration. The partnership continued to grow and in 2009, ERCPCP partnered with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (CYITC) to launch DC YouthLink, a coalition of community-based organizations across the city that provide a diverse array of services for court-involved youth in their home neighborhoods. While DC YouthLink is only four years old, it has made significant strides in expanding the types of services provided to youth and is placing an emphasis on the type of life goals that help enhance a youth’s prospects and lower their likelihood of re-offending or entering the adult justice system.
The most significant efforts of the organization are those community efforts that ERCPCP is best known for which include: 40 Days of Increased Peace, a summer initiative; the Girl Talk and Man2Man conferences which transmit life skills and mentors to male and female high school students; and the Clergy Response Team, which responds to the secondary victims of homicide. “I count these as some of our most significant programs,” Rev. Isaac stated, “because they have little funding, lots of volunteers and have been embraced by various sectors of the community.”
Rev. Isaac formally started as the Executive Director of ERCPCP in October of 2000. This is the same month that the organization was formally incorporated. As ERCPCP comes to the celebration of its thirteenth year of existence, Rev. Isaac states with an air of confidence rooted in God, “I am excited about the future. As I look back on the past thirteen years it gives me a feeling of excitement and expectation about the future. God has given us many accomplishments and victories and I am confident that the best is yet to come. The problems of our community are varied and deeply rooted but I look forward to building community-based, long-term solutions to some of these issues.”
At the top of the ERCPCP list is building on its experience and reputation as a major entity in the area of reentry for juveniles, young adults and their families. As Chairman of the CSOSA Faith Based Collaboration and ERCPCP’s role as the lead entity in DC Youth Link, Rev. Isaac and the organization are well positioned to make a contribution to the policies and programs for persons who are in the system and to make an impact on what Marion Edelman calls the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.
“To have significant impact on this problem, we must develop employment and housing alternatives for the lives we touch,” Rev. Isaac offers. Toward that end ERCPCP has and will continue to place major emphasis on both areas. At the same time, ERCPCP will work to rebuild its prevention programs with the reinstatement of the Increase the Peace campaign as well as the Man to Man and Girl Talk Conferences designed to build life skills, strong values and educational achievement among middle and high school students.
The future is bright and Rev. Isaac is looking forward, believing “the best is yet to come.” Stayed tuned as the man of God and the organization he is leading heads forward toward year fifteen, which he says, “is a significant milestone and I am looking forward to it and celebrating with the community that has made it all possible.”