Safe Streets Belair-Edison director Dante Johnson.

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Though Baltimore City is coming from a dreadful year that saw more than 330 homicides, the Belair-Edison community has something to celebrate.

The past year was monumental for Safe Streets Belair-Edison as the organization recorded zero homicides in 365 days in its catchment zone, which lies within Northeast Baltimore.

To commemorate the achievement, the organization hosted a community celebration along with local residents, political figures and community leaders outside of its Belair Road location on Dec. 29.

In addition to zero shooting homicides between Dec. 2020 and Dec. 2021, Safe Streets tallied a total of 345 mediated conflicts.

“We had to double down on our efforts because of the pandemic, of course. The community needed a whole lot more,” said Safe Streets Belair-Edison Director Dante Johnson, also the moderator of the ceremony.

“I live in this community, so it’s big from that perspective. It’s also big from a community perspective because it’s safer. It takes the whole community, so we’re not celebrating us, we’re not celebrating the program, we’re celebrating the community as a whole.”

Del. Chanel Branch, a representative of the 45th district, was invited to give remarks during the program. In 2017, she lost her son in the Belair-Edison area to gun violence which prompted her and others to urge lawmakers for funding to expand Safe Streets, a safety initiative of Living Classrooms which now has 10 locations throughout the city.

Belair-Edison Community Association president Rita Crews.

The Northeast Baltimore neighborhood averaged two to three murders a month just a few years back, Branch said before lauding Safe Streets for its commitment to reducing violence in a city that has been plagued by it. Her father, Del. Talmadge Branch, also made brief remarks.

“I came by today because I have a love and appreciation for you guys. You put your life on the line every day and I appreciate that,” Branch said. “I feel very lucky and we should be feeling very lucky that today we are standing in a community that has not had a all year.”

Councilman Antonio Glover, Del. Stephanie Smith and State Sen. Cory McCray acknowledged the arduous efforts of Safe Streets, from community engagement to crime prevention to violence intervention. There has been a 40% drop in homicides in the Northeast Police District and a 20% drop in non-fatal shootings, McCray pointed out, which leads the city. 

“We are the blueprint, we are the model. This is what we should see across the city,” McCray said. “Dante as I leave, I want to salute you, I want to salute your team and I just want to say thank you for this 365, and I look forward to the next 365.”

James Bond, CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation and Belair-Edison Community Association’s Rita Crews also delivered remarks before Shantay Jackson presented Johnson with a certificate on behalf of the Mayor’s Office.

“On behalf of the citizens of Baltimore, I am pleased to present this certificate to Safe Streets Baltimore-Baltimore Edison in recognition of your efforts to mediate conflicts, promote non-violence, and connect teenagers and young adults with the resources and services they need,” says the certificate of recognition signed by Mayor Brandon Scott.

“Thanks to your work, Belair Edison has gone 365 days without a homicide. On behalf of the citizens of Baltimore, I commend your team for an outstanding job reducing violence in Belair Edison. Congratulations!”

Shantay Jackson presenting Johnson and Safe Streets with a certificate of recognition on behalf of the Mayor’s Office

Following the 45-minute ceremony, Johnson and his team got in vehicles and drove around the Belair-Edison catchment zone to personally thank community members. Without them, the zero-homicide achievement would not have been possible, Johnson said.

“This means a lot for the community,” said Cheryl Riviere, an avid supporter of Safe Streets who serves as the managing director of community safety for Living Classrooms Foundation.

“This means when you have a trifecta effect – when we have an organization and a community bond it works.”

Safe Streets Belair-Edison staff members and supporters are glad to cap off a year that fulfilled the organization’s slogan: “Stop shooting, start living.” 

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