Queens group seeks to stop gun violence through human connections

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Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Queens group seeks to stop gun violence through human connections
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They offer workshops for young people, teaching them about health and wellness, leadership, mindfulness, financial literacy and employment.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- As the numbers of shootings across New York City continue to soar, a non-profit organization from Queens is trying to curb the violence through a different approach - by forming human connections.

Community Capacity Development (CCD), with offices in Jamaica and Long Island City, uses a network of community liaisons to try to convince people to walk away from lives of crime. They call themselves a "human and healing justice organization."

"Some of the first questions that you ask a person that's labeled as a gang member or a gangster is, did you eat today?" said CCD co-founder K. Bain. "What did you eat today? When was the last time you had something to eat?"

Bain said his team of volunteers and employees are effective in connecting with those in local street organizations because they used to be part of those organizations themselves.

"I think that's one of our superpowers," Bain said. "We are one of those persons. That we come from these streets. That we lived those lifestyles, so we have empathy when speaking with that 14-year-old with a gun because I was a 14-year-old with a gun."

Bain has successfully recruited some of the area's highest level leadership in street organizations to turn their lives around and work for him.

Malik Campbell did that.

"I have a lot of demons in my past," Campbell said. "I just wanted to change."

So did Himo Bryant. He hopes he serves as an example for younger people.

"When I'm out here and they see me and they know my reputation and they've heard stories and then they see the work that I'm doing and the positivity and the help and how we're changing people's lives here, it gives them someone they can look at and identify and say, 'I'm here now, but I can be there or more,'" Bryant said.

At CCD's offices, they offer workshops for young people, teaching them about health and wellness, leadership, mindfulness, financial literacy and employment. They offer women empowerment classes. They coach people on how to reach their personal and professional goals. They're working on opening bank accounts for hundreds of young people who will have to commit to taking a course on financial literacy in order to have access to the money in the account.

In a conference room at CCD's office at the Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, they often mediate between rival street groups and form peace agreements before the shootings happen.

The two sides sit across from each other at a conference table. They are checked for weapons before they enter the room.

Bain said many of the meetings happen in the middle of the night and can take several hours, while others can take days, weeks or months, especially if the rivalry goes back generations.

Bain said the truces can last a short time or for an extended period.

"Most of what we do doesn't make it to the front of the paper," Bain said.

Bain said mediators make it clear to both sides that if the agreement is violated, which happens occasionally, it will upset not just them.

"When they break that contract or peace agreement, they're violating each other, but they're also disrespecting and violating those of us who put ourselves out there to be the bridge," Bain said.

Bain said the proliferation of guns in the city is only a smart part of the gun violence problem.

"We live in a city where you can get firearms, automatic weapons, grenades, you can get all levels of assault rifles, faster than you can get organic produce," he said.

Bain said the goal is to get people to not want to use the guns.

"I've never seen a gun kill a person without a person pulling the trigger," he said.

Bain said a major driver of the violence in the streets right now is that people are looking for protection. He said it's a survival instinct to form "gangs" - what Bain refers to as "units of protection."

"There would be no need for units of protection if people felt protected," he said.

CCD's model seems to be working.

When CCD first came to the Queensbridge Houses in 2015, shootings were rampant there. Now, it's a rare occurrence. In 2017, the group celebrated 365 straight days with no shootings.

Bain and CCD have traveled across the United States to help broker peace between rival street organizations. They've been to Chicago, Baltimore, Miami, Compton and North Carolina.

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