Dead End

Bullets are flying and young men are dying in Deerfield's street war between Haitians and African-Americans

A church elder named Calvin Calcote took the podium and gave a passionate speech.

"It hurts to go to some of these funerals...," he said. "The killing's got to stop!"

Calcote said he was organizing men to march in the community, including Haitian ministers, who would walk side-by-side with them. His words pointed to the glaring absence of Haitian leaders in the room, underscoring the cultural divide.

"I don't care if they got guns," Calcote shouted. "Let them shoot. If I lose my life, I lose my life."

Ford declared that he wasn't sure the men in the room were really ready to tackle the problem. The meeting was a lot of talk with no clear ideas about what to do, others complained. Ford said they would need a top man if they would have any chance at all. He looked at Strobridge, whom he'd never met before that night.

"I'm appointing you as leader," the reverend said, before looking at the crowd. "All of you who accept him as leader, raise your hands."

Everyone in the room sent a palm toward the ceiling.


Westside Park is Strobridge's office, and he has two chief assistants, 19-year-old Jamar Stubbs, who is African-American, and Jonathan Dinu, who is Haitian-American.

Together, they are trying to end the war in Deerfield Beach.

They walk the park every day, talking to anyone who might need help. They write down names of kids and their teachers. They visit schools and play the role of advocate for the youths, who too often don't have any decent parental involvement in their lives.

And they preach, quite literally, against violence.

Walking around the park last week, Strobridge remarks on the fresh paint and nice landscaping. The park didn't always look good, he says, but the city fixed it up to try to make things better.

"You can change the landscape, and that's OK," he says. "But what you really have to do is make social change with the people. It has become a lifestyle, the fighting, the guns, the knives. That's what I'm trying to change."

The park is a nice place to work, but he wants a new office. Strobridge is now in negotiations with the managers of the Stanley Terrace Apartments, the site of his friend Jordan's murder, to open up shop in an abandoned building on the property where he can mentor youths.

He's also working with city officials on what he envisions will be a giant antiviolence rally at the park for spring break. Some of the men from the Bethlehem meeting are helping to plan it, which surprises him. "I honestly didn't think anything was going to come from that, but I guess I was wrong," he says happily.

"I want to call the rally 'Enough Is Enough.' Think about it — on spring break, we could get a lot of people to come out here. But it can't just be African-Americans. We need whites, Haitians, everybody. Everybody has to come together."

Strobridge says he never forgets that he could easily be on the other side, one of the confused and embattled, still swept up in a sea of mindless violence. He's been there. But one afternoon, an extraordinary thing happened to him to change everything.

It happened in English IV class, not long before graduation. The teacher broke up the students into groups for a project.

"I was trying to graduate, and the school was kicking everybody out for fighting, both Haitian and American," he remembers. "The group I was put in was split up between Haitians and Americans. And we didn't want to be tied up with Haitians, and Haitians didn't want to be tied up with us. The atmosphere was so thick with hatred, nobody said anything."

Across the table was a student named Jean-Paul Pierre, whom Strobridge had fought on a high school basketball court before. Pierre suddenly broke the silence.

"We ain't never going to be able to achieve anything in life if we keep fighting and tearing each other down," he said to no one in particular.

Those words hit Strobridge hard. He had no idea how much he wanted to hear them. "Yeah, man, you're right," he remembers saying at the table. "Our kids won't even be able to hang out. It's almost like we're practicing racism on ourselves."

Strobridge and Pierre, who would become friends and classmates at FAU, made a peace pact: "We said that from this day forward, we were going to edify one another instead of tearing each other down."

And Strobridge's war really did end on that day.

The work, though, had just begun.

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