A five-year-old child is kept home from school to be with parents while they rob someone. A Lansing youth is shot – five times – and receives no medical or mental health support beyond the emergency room. Young people are afraid to get a job because their enemies will find them and shoot them down.
These are the kinds of stories I have heard from young people who have been perpetrators and victims of gun violence. The lack of family and community support set them on destructive paths. The collateral consequences of their gun crimes – reduced access to jobs, education and services – create an even darker future and lead to more violence. More police or more arrests will not break the cycle. But I believe interventions like the Advance Peace Lansing initiative can transform lives and build safer neighborhoods.
Lansing, like many communities, has seen an upsurge in gun violence in recent years. Map the shootings and we find hotspots, much like geographic clusters of COVID-19, that impact not just those in neighborhoods, but all of Ingham County. The hotspots are in the poorest areas. And a large percentage of the bullets that injure, kill or terrorize come from a tiny percentage of the population. People with experiences like those mentioned above.
Both at MPHI – the Michigan Public Health Institute – and at the Centers for Disease Control, we recognize gun violence as a public health issue. This is why we agreed to lead Advance Peace for this region. The Advance Peace model identifies youth and young adults previously involved in firearms offenses (and at high risk for future violence) and invites them on a transformative journey.
Advance Peace was started in Richmond, California about 12 years ago by Lansing native DeVone Boggan. He started the program after learning that most of the gun crimes there were committed by just 17 men. The results in Richmond — and other communities that have adopted the model — have been impressive.
The Advance Peace model trains and deploys neighborhood change agents who work on the streets to identify and engage youth who are at the epicenter of gun violence. Changemakers have their own stories with gun violence and have the life experience and street credentials to reach out to this group and find people who are candidates for the Peacemaker Fellowships.
RELATED:Read more LSJ opinion content
Fellows then participate in personalized 18-month fellowships. They get support from neighborhood change agents and others, help they didn’t get growing up. This will open up hopeful and secure pathways for their future that did not exist before.
Advance Peace also connects these young men to a circle of Elders, men who have been trained to provide cross-generational mentorship to help them find jobs, navigate family relationships and meet life’s challenges.
As a criminologist and as a black man, I have seen how the lack of support, coupled with a few bad decisions, can send people down violent and tragic roads. It could have been me. Advance Peace has changed and saved lives in other cities. With police, public health and community support, Advance Peace can also work here.
Paul Elam holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice and is director of strategy forGive mea Michigan-based nationally-focused public health institute focused on equity, health promotion, and the advancement of well-being.