“Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him and to let him know that you trust him.”
—Booker T. Washington
I truly believe that we can end gun violence in American urban communities as we know it. This belief is a by-product of my nearly nine (9) years in Richmond California as its Neighborhood Safety Director and Director of the City of Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS). Over this period of time I have had an exclusive and prestigious opportunity to work with an exceptional group of formerly incarcerated community leaders that we call ‘Neighborhood Change Agents’ (NCA’s), as well as an extraordinary group of young men caught in the vicious cycle of lethal urban conflict that we call ‘Peacemaker Fellows’. My relationship and experience with each group has inspired me to dream, to think to believe, BIG! It is this big belief that has allowed me the courage to leave my city position and create Advance Peace. Advance Peace is dedicated to ending cyclical and retaliatory gun violence in American urban neighborhoods. We partner with and invest in the development, health and wellbeing of those at the center of this crisis by providing transformational LIFE opportunities that equip those involved with the emotional intelligence necessary to thrive in peace.
Dare to believe that an America without urban gun violence is attainable!
As a nation we MUST FIRST believe and expect that such a so-called “impossible” conclusion can be fulfilled if it is to have any chance of actually manifesting! In Richmond California, once one of the most dangerous cities in the country, I have learned that to achieve change from such an ominous distinction, one must come to work every day not only believing that change is possible, but committed to living and operating like change is probable and even imminent. Neighborhood Change Agents in Richmond have established for us all a clear picture of the vision, imagination, courage and strength required to effectively shepherd actual change into a community where despair once hopelessly abounded – with young men who are chronically unresponsive to help and resistant to change.
The young men that we are partnering with to achieve this awesome vision, those who are caught within these urban warzones, give us a great sense of hope. With each healthy decision many are making every day to resist handling street conflict with a firearm, our belief is strengthened, even more fortified as they further commit to embracing life. Often against great opposition and odds our Peacemaker Fellows are working with us to fashion a beloved community free of gun violence.
Our efforts must be chiefly motivated by love and through trusting relationships if we are to successfully create the conditions that encourage circumstances that make it possible for those who have traditionally driven gun violence in our cities to change and channel their energies toward more positive, healthy and even healing paths.
The word HOPE is defined as “a state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or in the world at large.” Despair is often regarded as the opposite of hope. For current Fellows and those “would-be Fellows” to partner with Advance Peace, HOPE is an act of looking forward to something healthy with desire and a reasonable confidence that it will occur. Our work has been aimed at increasing HOPE through building trust, security, clarity, and maturity in those that we partner with and are honored to serve. Coupled with raising and nurturing high expectations for a positive future we are afforded a humbling opportunity to instill and push large doses of HOPE. This new and fertile HOPE is indeed birthing bold expectation!
Advance Peace can prevent shootings and killings in American urban neighborhoods. In partnership with those suspected to be most responsible for firearm assaults, we are challenging and changing unhealthy norms, creating conditions that reduce behaviors that produce firearm injury and death, and providing a canvass that engenders Hope for a healthy and dynamic future where the genius (versus the destruction and/or annihilation) of our young people is delivered to both our urban cities and the global family. Where we are going and what we are accomplishing today demonstrates the power of an extraordinary belief in and partnership with youth and young adults. Tomorrow’s outcomes will be a product of our robust confidence in and implementation of effective public health approaches to preventing gun violence.
Brilliant outcomes await urban America if we remain committed and continue to intentionally and deliberately acknowledge, see, develop, validate and invite the genius out of ALL of our young people, including those caught in the cycle of violence and poverty and exposed to nothing but tools of lethal death. In the words of Malidoma Patrice Somè “youth must be assisted in giving birth to the genius that he is born with…” as we have seen, particularly by way of the experiences of those individuals who are most likely to commit a shooting or be a victim of one, “failure to do so kills that genius along with the person carrying it…the community responsible for the death of an inner genius is like an assassin. The community that is willing and able to develop and receive the person’s genius however gives birth to the adult who is able to contribute his healing gifts to that community.” With our Fellows we will continue to recognize and awaken, and facilitate the delivery of genius to the American urban landscape – giving this important genius fertile ground to burst forth and blossom.
Remember, “When one truly desires to live, better decisions are made, lives are changed, and conditions are created that help to transform a city!”