Sparrow and Finch Gardening Faith-based “violence interrupters” stop gang shootings by promising redemption to at-risk youth, not jail time

Faith-based “violence interrupters” stop gang shootings by promising redemption to at-risk youth, not jail time

The body count is increasing. Columbus, Ohio, where I study and teach violence reduction, had 13 homicides during the first 26 days in July, as per police data. This is 46% more than July 2019. According to police data, many shooting victims come from the same Black communities in cities that have been bearing the brunt of American gun violence over the past decades.

CeaseFire, which works with schools, churches, and community groups such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, also helps gang members and youth at risk to move past street life. They can do this by completing their studies, getting a job, or enrolling in drug and alcohol treatment.

According to a National Institute of Justice evaluation, between 1991 and 2006, CeaseFire has helped reduce shootings by 16% to 28 % in four of seven Chicago neighborhoods studied.

Restorative justice

CeaseFire Columbus is an Ohio program that was modeled after Chicago but with a more religious focus.

CeaseFire Columbus is a community anti-violence organization run by Ministries for Movement. It was founded during the summer of 2009 when violence was at its highest. Cecil Ahad and local youth joined forces with Dartangnan Hills, the former gang leader, to organize a “homicidal” march through South Side Columbus after 20-year-old Dominique Searcy was named Columbus’ 52nd murder in 2009.

Teen drummers lead the march to Columbus Family Missionary Baptist Church. Deanna Wilkinson, CC BY

Frederick LaMarr offered his Family Missionary Baptist Church as a host for the group’s work against violence, giving rise to Ministries for Movement. After studying Columbus’ crime statistics, I invited Ministries for Movement to implement a CeaseFire local program in 2010.

CeaseFire Columbus adopted some of Chicago’s violence-interruption tactics. However, the guiding philosophy for Pastor LaMarr and Brother Ahad was to treat everyone with compassion, regardless of whether they were a mother in grief or a member of a gang.

Some CeaseFire Programs use threats of prison time to convince high-risk youths to stop killing one another. Evidence suggests that young people who are trapped in a cycle of violence will often give up their guns in exchange for a chance at a better future: a higher education, perhaps, or an offer of employment in a particular field.

LaMarr & Ahad encouraged violent perpetrators to accept responsibility for their actions. Sometimes, that meant reporting themselves to the authorities. Sometimes, that meant turning themselves into authorities.

Ministries for Movement helped hundreds of young Columbus residents leave gangs. In my evaluation for Ohio State University, I found that CeaseFire Columbus reduced shootings in our target area by 76% between 2011 and 2014. During 27 months, no murders occurred.

The first murder after two years of peace in the country was heartbreaking. The victim was 24-year-old Rondell Brinkley, who had been transforming his life with the help of Ministries for Movement. Brinkley’s personal story of transformation had been shared at a local event days before his death.

Gardening for change

It takes a sustained and intensive effort to stop violence. It can be challenging to do this with a volunteer team.

CeaseFire Columbus’ best results came after receiving US$125,000 in grants for street outreach, community mobilization, public health messages, and conflict mediation. The Ohio State University and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio provided funding.

Ministries for Movement continue to be active in South Side Columbus. It organizes a Healing March every first Sunday of the month. CeaseFire was a victim of city politics and lost funding. As gun violence has decreased in our area but is increasing in other areas Co,lumbus Ministries for Movement shares its approach with local community leaders and faith leaders.

You’re just too busy to read it all. We get it. We understand.

Gardening is another way to try and stop violence.

An Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs motivating Sustainability participant. Deanna Wilkinson CC BY

In 2015, using Department of Agriculture funding, I launched the Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability and planted a vegetable garden at the church of Pastor LaMarr, replacing an overgrown, rusty fence of a neighboring abandoned house.

Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainable helps young people develop skills, strengthen social relationships, and improve health within their communities by growing fresh food. The 300 participants in the program have all witnessed violent crime and death. Many people find gardening therapeutic.

Urban Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainable improves the participants’ eating habits and problem-solving skills. It also helps them to develop their leadership and persistence.

In 2017, Nasir Groce (now 13) said: “It has taught me many things, including how to eat better and grow vegetables.” It’s taught that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”

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