Published by emPower Magazine
By: Ashley Jones
Drive through any inner city plagued by violence and you will find street corners filled with flowers, candle light vigils to end the shootings, stop signs draped with teddy bears, and people wearing t-shirts of their deceased loves ones. While these tactics are done with good intentions, they don’t necessarily stop the problem. Even with recent studies showing that gun violence has sharply declined in recent years, many cities like Chicago, Detroit, Memphis and Baltimore are dealing with daily violence in their inner cities that’s taking the lives of its youth. So, how do we end the senseless killings? Nationwide, there are many non-profit organizations and activist groups that are making it their mission to combat violence in their neighborhoods everyday.
One such activist is Andre Mitchell, founder of Man Up! Inc., based in East New York. Mitchell has dedicated his work to community improvement by “providing a presence of peace” and eliminating gun violence and gang activity. In 2004, Mitchell founded the organization after a stray bullet killed his 8-year-old son as he walked home from school.
“Violence is a disease,” Mitchell said. “If we don’t get it checked out, it can spread and wreak havoc. It makes a community defenseless.”
After becoming heavily involved in his neighborhood by helping to create a “no shooting zone,” his East New York community went 367 days without a shooting. emPower magazine asked Mitchell to share five ways we can minimize violence in our own neighborhoods.
1) Identify credible messengers in the community
According to Mitchell, a credible messenger is a respected person from the neighborhood who is not afraid to reach out and has “been there, done that” and can relate to the people. They have the experience to share their personal stories with the hopes that the message can prevent someone from taking the wrong path in life and provide an alternative to violence.
2) Have a respected community or street-based organization that has a history of servicing that particular neighborhood
Established organizations that have started their work within the community to help spread positivity and give back can have successful outcomes when creating programs to curb violence because they have gained respect from their fellow community members. For instance, Mitchell’s organization has been laying the foundation in East New York for nearly a decade through a number of community programs. Its Harambay Cultural Institution provides a safe, after school environment for neighborhood children to learn martial arts, youth leadership, computer literacy, video production, poetry dance and health awareness. In addition, the organization’s Ceasefire ENYBK, part of a $4 million anti-gun violence initiative in New York State, brought together a group of community leaders who worked as street outreach workers and violence interrupters.
3) Create a resource bank where people make “deposits” or “withdrawals”
“Everyone has to be willing to network to gain resources, which is information,” Mitchell said. “And the people within the community gain access to those resources [as] withdrawals.” For instance, one of the programs that Man Up! offers is a monthly support group for the formerly incarcerated to share and address issues they face daily with the hopes of preventing future crimes and ensuring they become productive members of society.
4) Vocational education
Mitchell believes that besides higher education, providing young people access to learn some type of trade can help minimize violence. While everyone may not be able to go to college, if cities would invest in vocational training, youth in low-income communities can gain the skills necessary to get a good paying job.
5) Employment opportunities
“The best way to curb violence is to create jobs. Contrary to popular belief, these high-risk people are trying to make a living for themselves,” Mitchell said. Often times they have been stricken with poverty and tend to go to desperate measures to provide for their families with the essentials needed to survive because of the lack of income as a result of little to no employment.
Learn more about Man Up! Inc., by visiting: manupinc.org.