Last week, the City of Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) was featured on Al-Jazeera’s America Tonight two part series “Paying For Peace” on their innovative approach to violence prevention and reduction. On Tuesday, April 1st 2014 the joint tables of the Oakland – Alameda County Alliance for Boys and Men of Color Alliance welcomed Devone Boggan, Director of ONS, to discuss the development, challenges and impacts of the Peacemaker Fellowship program. This presentation informed the re-engagement program design for the Oakland – Alameda County Opportunity Youth Initiative plan submitted to the Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solutions on June 2, 2014.

Under Mr. Boggan’s leadership, the program model shifted from the previous intervention strategies focused on “hot blocks” to identifying and engaging “hot people.” The program provides targeted, responsive intervention services to improve the social, emotional and economic wellbeing of those being engaged. In the three cohorts over the last 4 years, the ONS Peacemaker Fellowship engaged 68 of Richmond’s most lethal, active firearm offenders who have avoided sustained criminal justice consequences. During that time, Richmond experienced a 66% reduction in firearm related homicides – with 2013 having the lowest number of firearm-related homicides on record in three decades. “The benefits of the Fellowship can be felt everywhere…” remarked a Gang Commander from the Richmond Police Department, “…nowhere is the impact more visible than in the overall reduction in violent crime in our city.”

While many of the services provided by the 18-month fellowship program were linked to the successful outcomes of the young men – including Life Mapping, intergenerational mentoring, stipends and subsidized internships – Mr. Boggan identified out-of-state and international exposure trips as the most impactful part of the program. Through a delegation sponsorship from the California Wellness Foundation, Richmond ONS sent three fellows from rival turf to attend the World Health Organization Global Campaign for Violence Prevention in South Africa. During the trip they met with former anti-Apartheid activists now working on reconciliation campaigns. Mr. Boggan commented that the trip gave fellows the opportunity to become culturally rooted, historically connected, and courageously hopeful that forgiveness is possible.

Alliance members and systems leaders in attendance also identified potential program alignment opportunities and challenges for implementing a similar approach for the Oakland – Alameda County Opportunity Youth Initiative. Junious Williams, CEO of Urban Strategies Council, noted that “the fellowship program model represents something that we can use with disengaged, disconnected young people.” Mr. Boggan agreed that the Opportunity Youth Initiative is primed to be a vehicle for replicating the ONS program design for young adults who are currently unemployed and not in school. However, he also urged building strategic partnerships with systems leaders at the city and county level, including law enforcement agencies. “This work is politically difficult,” he cautioned, “You have to be willing to go through the fire, do some pilot work and have your own laboratory.”

In response to this presentation, the Opportunity Youth Initiative Steering Committee approved the inclusion of a fellowship model to re-engage disconnected young adults onto pathways towards education and family sustaining, career employment.

  •  For the presentation on the Richmond ONS Peacemaker Fellowship Program, click here.
  • For more information regarding the Oakland – Alameda County Opportunity Youth Initiative, click here.
  • For more information on the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety, click here