I don’t want to crack on City Council members who gathered on Thursday at One Government Center to denounce violence. But here’s the truth: the young men shooting up the streets of Toledo -- or Detroit, or Chicago, or Cleveland -- aren’t listening to the city’s shotcallers. They don’t care what The Blade says, either, or, for that matter, most of the people leading the conversation on violence in this city.
If they listen to anyone, it will be someone like themselves who has managed to change his life -- and if that someone can offer them a chance to do something better, then they’re even more likely to pay attention.
Whenever we talk about violence, we end up talking to ourselves. It’s time to go to the source and broaden the conversation.
After I moved from Detroit to Toledo last year, I got the Toledo Police Department to start taking troubled young men to Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit. A group of inmates there, members of the Youth Deterrent Program, talk to young men from Detroit -- and now from Toledo -- about respecting themselves and making better choices. It’s a conversation guided by respect, even love. Most of the inmates are serving life sentences for murder. Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins and Police Chief William Moton have agreed to attend a ceremony sponsored by the group this month.
The Flip the Script program in Detroit, run by Goodwill Industries, also uses peer mentoring to work with young men coming out of -- or headed for -- prison. Young men go through a tough 16-week program where they strengthen math and job skills, find employment, learn how to manage money, and develop self-respect and purpose.
Do these programs reach everyone? Hell, no. But they both have demonstrated extraordinary success in working with young men that other people have practically written off.
The head of Flip the Script, Keith Bennett, doesn’t put up with any stuff. Nor does he want to hear any excuses. But like the prisoners at Ryan, he is driven by respect and love.
We need to stop demonizing young people in the hood, especially young men of color. And when we put together programs that involve them, including anti-violence initiatives, they have to be at the table.
At the next city council press conference on violence, I hope the people speaking to reporters are not politicians, but young men who have done some of the shooting and are now willing to talk to their brothers about changing the game.
I hope the city will be ready to launch low-cost but effective programs like Flip, where young men can get some skills and a sense of purpose, mentored by other young men like themselves.
I hope Toledo’s elected leaders stop talking to themselves and pass the mike.