Newark Community Organizations Aim to Reduce Violence With Grant Monies

“We know that it takes everything to be able to invest in creating change,” said Lakeesha Eure, the director of the city's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery.

The city in recent years has seen significant investment in community-based public safety initiatives aimed to reduce violence. 

In November 2021, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka announced that the city would invest $19 million into violence reduction strategies over the next three years. The investment is aimed to bolster a number of actions the city has taken to enhance its public safety operations.

"The only answer is what we're doing here today," said Baraka.

Part of the city’s investment into community-based public safety strategies is also tied into shifting the mindset as well.

The Newark Police Department last year took a major step in transforming its law enforcement strategies when it introduced a group of 10 social workers through the city's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery to address how mental health issues are overlooked in everyday interactions between police and the public. Under their role in the department, the social workers are tasked with providing services to crime victims and others such as crisis intervention, mediation and referrals.

The move fell in line with the city’s commitment to allocate about $12 million of its public safety budget into an Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery as a means to impede hate activity and violence within Newark.

The city’s investment in its Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery is already making an impact on residents.

One of the office’s outreach workers, Lynn Smith, said that after he was shot years ago in an attempted robbery, he had no resources available to him to cope with his trauma. In response to the shooting, Smith said he carried a gun around that eventually got him incarcerated.

Then, the city's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery provided Smith a second chance at life. He applied for a job at the office and got an opportunity to cope with his past.

“I was able to talk to somebody to get back to some type of normalcy when I didn’t even realize I was holding onto those traumas,” said Smith.

Now, the lifelong Newark resident gets to assist people in his community through his role as an outreach worker.

“It’s my passion,” he said. “The [Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery] gave me an opportunity to use my degrees to assist some young guys and prevent them from the pitfalls that I fell into.

The data around community-based public safety groups’ effectiveness backs the city’s calls for investment, too.

A report released in October 2021 by New Jersey Policy Perspective found that community-based public safety initiatives like the Newark Community Street Team (NCST) could become a model for organizations across the country in reducing violence and crime.

Founded by Baraka in 2015, NCST was established with a mission to implement an evidence-based, trauma-informed approach to violence reduction rather than relying on crime rate data as an indicator of public safety. The goal of the organization is to not only reduce crime with a community-led response but to have systems in place that support the city’s most vulnerable residents.

NCST supports residents through a number of ways such as conducting wellness evaluations and therapeutic counseling in partnership with the city’s Department of Health and Community Wellness; support through the application process for the Victims Compensation Fund connecting survivors of crimes with support services; and employment and education referrals, in partnership with Newark Jobs Connect.

As one of the recipients of the recently awarded grant monies, NCST Deputy Director Solomon Middleton-Williams said these funds will be allocated towards pay raises for the team’s workers.

“If you are able to employ local community members to really keep peace within their neighborhoods, we can drive down violence,” said Middleton-Williams. “Because of the work we’ve been doing for seven years, most of our high-risk intervention division has intervened and mediated over 14,000 conflicts. That’s 14,000 less arrests, less incarcerations, less folks becoming impoverished… We’re going to continue to do that by supporting our staff by increasing their salaries.”

Another strategy towards preventing violence also comes by targeting youth in the community.

One community organization slated to receive funds aimed to support violence reduction strategies in Newark includes the HUBB Arts & Trauma Center. Founded in 2006 by Newark resident Al Tariq Best, the center serves as a community organization that utilizes entertainment and education as key components of youth violence intervention and healing.

“We utilize the arts as a way to draw youth in, and then when we have them, we educate them in financial literacy, health and wellness, self-advocacy - all of those things,” said Best. “More deeply, we engage them in peeling back the layers to find out what’s going on in their world.”

Another community organization that plans to reach youth through its grant award is the Weequahic Park Environmental Authority (WPEA). Founded in 2018, the organization carries out cleanup projects in Weequahic Park as well as cleaning up debris and illegal dumping. The organization is also invested in preserving and inserting more wildlife into the park, working with local entities to support these efforts.

Part of the grant monies, WPEA President Maggie Freeman said, will be used to get more youth involved in programming at the park.

“We are going to charge our community with environmental projects and initiatives as well as introduce them to sports,” said Freeman.

At the conclusion of the roundtable discussion, Eure, the director of the city's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery, noted that this would not be the last time community leaders came together to discuss violence prevention strategies.

In order to sustain violence reduction in Newark going forward, she called on other community partners to join the effort.

“We want to make sure that the organizations here know that this is not a one-off,” she said. “These conversations need to continue.”

The Newark-based groups that received grants are as follows:

  • Newark Community Street Team
  • After School All-Stars New Jersey
  • United Community Corporation
  • Inside Outside Circle Foundation
  • The HUBB Arts & Trauma Center (FP YouthOutCry Foundation, Inc.)
  • Hear My Cries A NJ Nonprofit Organization
  • REFAL, INC.
  • Weequahic Park Environmental Authority
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published this page in News and Politics 2022-02-24 03:18:11 -0800