Staying Clean in a Mud Puddle

“Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest from resources and power.”
—Glenn E. Martin, JustLeadershipUSA

Our Peacemaker Fellowship in Richmond California has contributed to a 71% reduction in firearm assaults causing injury or death in 2016, the lowest since the Fellowship was launched in June 2010. After the conclusion of our fourth 18-month Fellowship cohort in September 2016, of 84 total Fellows, since becoming a Fellow 94% are alive, 83% haven’t been injured by a firearm and 77% are not a suspect in new firearm crimes according to the Richmond Police Department.

While we celebrate this milestone with great exuberance, much of the media coverage about this success has been shortsighted, and typically focuses only on one of the seven hi-impact elements of our comprehensive Fellowship designed for the most lethal and most likely victims of urban gun violence—the ‘Life Map Milestone Allowance’, or what some have termed the “fabricated click-bate” product of the media—“paying criminals to behave” or “paying for Peace.” This sharply misrepresents Advance Peace and how we work. This also ignores and attempts to undermine the power of healthy relationships and responsive opportunities. These headlines can also be an affront to the hard work, discipline and courage that most of our Fellows demonstrate each day in negotiating their newfound decision making process that leads them to more often embrace and promote peace in the mist of ongoing conflict and contrary “group” values.

As a result of this colossal shortcoming in most media reporting about the Fellowship and its impact, what gets lost is the more pronounced experience and reality on the ground in Richmond—that young men closest to the gun violence are in fact making healthier decisions about how they handle conflict that has in the past led to an increase in shootings. The reality in Richmond remains that each day, boys and men of color between the ages of 13–27 years old who live and/or occupy the urban warzone are impacted not only by past and present gun violence, but also by even more appalling and historical violence leveled towards them that includes severe inequities, atmospheric and untreated trauma, poor educational and economic opportunity, a lack of political resources, and a deficiency of responsive social supports. As Richmond Program Manager Sam Vaughn notes, “we’re teaching our Fellows how to stay clean in a mud puddle.” And, the Fellows are exceeding our expectations!  Although street level conflicts (disputes that may result in retaliatory cycles of gun violence) are ongoing, and several were certainly navigated by our city’s most vulnerable young men in 2016, their responses to these transgressions were far different than in past years.

It is essential to communicate the impact of strong partnerships between healthy life coaches and the Fellows who have the greatest influence over the direction in which gun violence trends. Without such a relationship, courage, willingness, and the patience required in developing and empowering these specific young men—very little changes, and epidemic rates of gun violence persists.

We have made a commitment to acknowledge and affirm the value, worth, humanity and power of these young men. As such, Advance Peace will continue to increase positive investments towards the hope that is dependent upon this specific group of individuals. Only then is real and longstanding peace in our urban American neighborhoods possible.

There is much work to do. No codes have been cracked and we should not be satisfied until gun violence ends in urban America. For the families that have lost loved ones this year and in years past, you and the memory of those who have passed on have encouraged a firm resolve and an ongoing commitment to make our urban centers healthier places to live, work and play.

Advance Peace is truly grateful to the many young men who when faced with potentially lethal contention, made healthier decisions. We are proud of your hard work, your strength and resolve to resist years of bad information, advice, example and instruction that point you toward a path known to escalate conflicts. You are, and you must also be seen and embraced as great resources and advocates for creating healthier communities. We celebrate you and embrace you as a significant part of the solution equation necessary for achieving high impact results and securing the safety of our American urban landscape.

So with great humility, a strong sense of pride and a heart filled with hope, we thank you!

“When one truly desires to live, better decisions are made, lives are changed, and conditions are created that help to transform a city.”
—DeVone Boggan