July 24, 2015

Helping Potentially Lethal Young Men

I often speak about severely under-male-nourished young men who are lost, imprisoned, or even dying for lack of adult male blessing and guidance. Very often, these are young males who have nothing positive to say about a father or adult man. I'm talking ZERO positive connection to good men and often lots of damage from a bad dad or the other men who are in their lives. The result is an emotionally damaged kid full of anger and teen bravado. The mask of, "I'm fine and I don't need anybody" is hard set on these guys, and they can put the whole community in danger.

Because of their predictable deficits, these young men are at high risk for making very bad life choices. But IF a man or group of men can connect with them while being very patient and working gently, many young men can have their life's trajectory altered and many can be saved. It often takes a long time to connect with these guys and a lot of courage on the part of these young men to risk trusting men again.

So I was not surprised when one of you sent along this great article from Mother Jones describing how a combination of mentoring by good men and cash incentives are being combined to reduce violence and homicides in Richmond, California. The article states in 2007 Richmond, "had the dubious distinction of being the ninth most dangerous in America." They had 47 homicides that year which meant in some places, gunfire was almost a daily event. Research into those numbers in 2009 revealed a rather surprising fact: "An estimated 70 percent of shootings and homicides in Richmond in 2009 were caused by just a few individuals . . . between the ages of 16 and 25." With the city's "potentially most lethal young men" identified, in combinations with other interventions, they set up Operation Peacemaker Fellowship (OPF), now known nationally as "the Richmond Model.”

The most innovative aspect of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship was the bait. The deal was if the young men, called Fellows, maintained their program commitment for six months — attending meetings, staying out of trouble, and connecting with their mentors, they became eligible to earn up to $1,000 a month for a maximum of nine months and to go on big trips to see the world. With gun violence in the U.S. costing an estimated $229 billion dollars a year, the average cost to taxpayers of every gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. With only about half the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship participants getting payments at all (usually in the $300 to $700 range) meant the cost of the initiative was a bargain given the results.

As a result of OPF and its other initiatives, by 2014 Richmond recorded a 76 percent reduction in homicides and a 69 percent reduction in firearm assaults from the 2007 data. That's the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in their community in more than four decades. Of the 68 OPF Fellows who participated over the past 43 month period: 65 are alive (95%); 64 have not been injured by firearm (94%); and 57 (84%) have not been involved in any gun activity. These are huge victories given the scope and scale of the challenge!

. . . the benefits of connecting with these young guys
are much bigger than just fewer shootings.

The OPF men doing the mentoring are called Neighborhood Change Agents, and together they now work with about 150 young guys a year. While saving lives and reducing gang activity is impressive, they've learned the benefits of connecting with these young guys are much bigger than just fewer shootings. Many of the "potentially most lethal" young men in the OFP program are now in school or in jobs. These young men are doing more parenting, less drug use, and causing less violence in general. They have moved on from predictable criminal dead ends to involvement in programs that have changed the trajectory of their lives and are improving their neighborhoods in the process.

Check out this video from Richmond TV station KCBS for more of the story!
"They have to be willing to get on a plane with someone who is trying to kill you!"

The good men of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship are my heroes working on the front lines of the struggle to reclaim our lost boys and our communities. We need to honor them and learn from their experience. But to be very clear, ALL young men, even those with great families and engaged fathers, can use the objectivity and support of solid adult men. If teen males of any background can find their way to a place where there is support from good men, they will gradually open up and let you see the truth behind the mask they wear (and they all do). In those circles you can actually witness the effect of the group support, good information, personal feedback, and the positive attention working on them. You can watch as they become more confident, smile more often, and, most importantly, make better life choices.

That is what's at the heart of man-making!

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading what you had to say, some of the information truly hit home for me.


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