Gang Intervention Graduates Build An Army Of Peace
The program trains people to help keep peace in gang hot zones. Most of the students are former gang members. The graduates completed 140 hours of course work, focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health, public health, cease-fire tactics and law enforcement dynamics.
“They are looking to us to find the blueprint to change the norm of urban violence,” said Tony Massengale, senior intergroup relations specialist at the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission.
The Urban Peace Academy is a program from the Advancement Project, a public policy action organization with roots in the civil rights movement. Its founding co-director, Connie Rice, presented the certificates of completion to graduates at the ceremony.
Twenty years ago, Rice was told that this program was impossible. She said they couldn’t find funding, but are now building “an army of peace.” Rice expressed her respect to these students whose changes had brought more peace to their communities.
“If you fail, pick yourself back up and get back on the right track,” Rice said. “It’s about how you are professionally to stay true to this work. You are saving lives.”
The program's staff said they needed help from these graduates on the streets. Instructor Skipp Townsend said the individuals who came from the community primarily had to go back to stop a cycle of violence. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said the shared desire of saving young people who died for no reason brought them together on this journey.
“We have a long way to go but we have made so much progress," Beck said.
Despite the burden of the budget cut agenda, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa showed his full support of the program.
“In this budget, I didn’t veto much,” Villaraigosa said. “But I did veto when some people thought it was OK to cut this program.”
After the speech, graduates eagerly took a photo with the mayor.
Lydia Friend and her son Keith Corbin both graduated Friday. Corbin said he joined a gang at 12 years old and stayed for 17 years. He said that after two of his cousins were killed and his brother was shot seven times, he started feeling the pain he used to inflict on other people and it changed his perspective.
Friend has lived in Watts for 53 years. She said her heart goes out to mothers with children who have died due to gang violence. She said the program gave her the idea to help seniors in the communities who often chose to stay in their houses rather than be out in the community, and talk to them about intervention.
Joseph Evans, 33, was one of the graduates. After spending 11 years in prison for second degree robbery and separated from his family, he said, he decided to change his lifestyle. He said prison was the best thing that happened to him because it helped him realize that that culture was not what he wanted.
“I want to help the next kid not repeat the same mistake I did."