ORLANDO, Fla. – Is it the answer to finally reversing the growing trend of gun violence in the most dangerous parts of Central Florida?
Raysean Brown thinks so.
A year ago, Brown was hired by the City of Orlando’s Children and Families Division to start up a program that has been tried and tested in major cities around the country: Community Violence Initiative (CVI).
He’s put one CVI “Neighborhood Change Associate” and one CVI “peacekeeper” in each of Orlando’s most violent neighborhoods: Parramore, Holden Heights, Carver Shores, Mercy Drive and Rosemont.
Who are the Change Associates?
“Imagine the guy that we looked up to on the corner, imagine he didn’t have to sell drugs, imagine somebody was paying that same salary and said, ‘hey change your life!’ You see what I’m saying?” Brown said.
Brown explained what life is like where he’s from — Orlando’s oldest African-American neighborhood, Parramore.
“I think about my own childhood and say I wish who I thought was the coolest guy on the block would come and say, ‘hey now that’s stupid, what are you all doing?’ Because now you’re making it seem cool, oh it’s cool! OK. And people don’t realize how far the power of that goes,” he said.
Brown realized it so he’s using his experience growing up to make growing up — now — a better experience.
He finds the coolest guy on the block by asking around.
“I’m talking to the young people standing on the corner, I’m talking to the older people sitting on their porch, I’m talking to the guy at the store,” Brown said. “And not only are they from that community, they are the guys that were doing the same type of acts in the past. So in that community, they have a whole lot of influence and sway and they have turned their life around, they’re no longer doing this. And we could go to them and say how would you like to be a positive impact on your community and, not only that, how would you like to be paid to be a positive impact?”
Brown hires the Neighborhood Change Associates at the starting salary of a police officer — $50,000 per year. And the job of the Change Associate is to change through conversation the worst of the worst — the most violent in the community.
“Now he has three months to find his fellows,” Brown said.
Why are the worst of the worst called fellows?
“Because this is a fellowship, right,” Brown said. “So the fellow has to meet the requirement which is most likely to be shot or be the shooter. Because statistics say that’s the same person, right, if you are the shooter you’re most likely to be shot. Because if you doing the shooting somebody wants to shoot you.”
Abe Morris, City of Orlando Children and Families Division Manager, said the city has never tried anything like CVI.
“This is directly addressing gang violence across the City of Orlando,” Morris said. “Well if you think a reduction in shootings by 37% across the city, gunshot wounds reductions 31%, homicides by 9% is getting results, I believe so. That’s 58 less people shot this year compared to last year.”
Morris said the statistics one year later show a quantifiable improvement.
“Since the start of the program we haven’t seen a month where shootings haven’t decreased compared to the previous month,” Morris said.
Brown checks in with his Neighborhood Change Associates and Peacekeepers three times per day in person and requires them to use an app to log how many conversations they’re having with fellows.
“So imagine nobody has talked to you the majority of your life, you’re just doing what you want to do,” Brown said. “Then all of a sudden the guy that you recognized as the O.G. comes and he’s talking to you every day three times a day. It’s a requirement.”
Brown said he can say with certainty that the conversations have had a positive effect on at least one person deciding not to use a gun.
“For 10 hours a day, this program is waking up every day and we’re going inside these neighborhoods every day,” Brown said. “For 10 hours a day. And we’re working with these individuals. And we don’t care if you say no, we’re going to contact you every day no matter what!”
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