NYC intervention programs seek to intercept violence before it happens

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Following a summer marked by increased violence in New York City and other major cities around the country, there's a movement gaining attention called Cure Violence.

The program relies on community groups and outreach efforts to intercept violence before it happens, eliminating the need for police to get involved.

In New York City, the Mayor's Office to Prevent Gun Violence said the city has invested roughly $36 million in the initiative operated in partnership with non-profit groups in 21 precincts.

According to the city, data from 2010-2019 shows the strategy has contributed to a 40% reduction in shootings, on average, in participating neighborhoods.

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Among those neighborhoods is a stretch of Central Harlem, where Street Corner Resources, headquartered at 151 West 145th Street, seeks to improve the community and decrease violence by connecting teens to jobs, education, training and support.

"We try our best to do prevention," SRC Founder and CEO Iesha Sekou said. "If we expect something different from them (teens and young adults), we have to be prepared as adults to have something different for them. They know when they open that door, there is someone who will hear them and who will see them."

In addition to street outreach, Street Corner Resources operates the Peace Cafe, a safe space for teens and young adults to hang out in Central Harlem.

The Peace Cafe features a music recording studio, an area for open mic nights, a family room with a big screen TV, and an outdoor area for games and barbecues.

The recording studio gives teens and young adults an opportunity to express themselves through their words and discuss their experiences and frustrations without resorting to violence.

"It's sad to say that it's something that I'm used to. Police headlines, every day, it ain't new, news. I got to see the headlines on the usual, don't know the difference between a man and a criminal..." recited Jania Perry, one of the producers in the studio, while remembering a recent song she'd written. "Living lies speak about it, hand on the bible but you're silent. You have killed out soul. Right your wrong, so cold."

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Perry joined SRC in high school and has often explored challenges and losses within her community in the lyrics she has written, taking on topics such as violence and police use of force.

SRC has also taken an active role in advocating for police reforms and prioritizing social services and programs that support communities in need.

"We have rules here," Perry said. "No cussing, no gang affiliations. It's like, you say whatever you want to say without using the negativity in their words."

Perry added that Street Corner Resources has increased her self confidence and helped her find purpose.

"It's okay to mess up," she said. "It's OK to go through those phases. Everything isn't going to be good, but when you get that one good thing you run with it."

Despite doubting she'd attend college, Perry said she is now in school for sound engineering.

"And actually, my last semester went really good," she said.

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Perry is among the dozens of teens and young adults SRC has helped.

Sekou said the recording studio, the games, the barbecues and the open mic nights are just the beginning of what SRC offers teens and young adults.

"Living lies speak about it, hand on the bible but you're silent. You have killed out soul. Right your wrong, so cold."

The non-profit also provides group counseling to help teens sort through conflicts and challenges and connects them to jobs, educational resources and other supports.

"I hope they learn that the possibilities are greater than what they see in front of them," said Maurice Lacey, a licensed social worker at SRC.

Perry said SRC has taught her to speak up and care about what's happening in her community, and now, she tries to set an example for other teens and young adults in the community as well.

"It made me feel good that I was being a part of the change," she said. "It's not just about you. It's about how are you going to protect the generation that comes after you."

According to SRC, from August 2016 to June 2019, there were no shooting victims in the roughly eight- by two-block area of Central Harlem where they focus their efforts.

A spokesperson for the Mayor's Office to Prevent Gun Violence described SRC as a valued partner with the city.

"As New York City's Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by the two public health crises of gun violence and COVID-19, our Crisis Management System partners have stepped up in a profound way," Executive Director Jessica Mofield said. "Street Corner Resources has been an essential partner in keeping their neighbors safe and healthy."

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