A new initiative is underway in the region to combat gang violence among kids. The United Way along with government officials donated $100,000 to create Way to Prevention Education Awareness Connection and Empowerment (PEACE).

“We see this as the first step in solving this growing problem in our region,” said Bill Hanbury, president and CEO, United Way of the National Capital Area (NCA), in a statement. “The health of our region’s youth is one of United Way’s top priorities and our hope is that with the success of this program, we will be expanding to more communities in our region.”

The United Way’s $50,000 investment is matched by the state. Led by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Maryland wants to prevent kids from getting involved in gangs at an early age.

“Building strong communities requires forming strong partnerships, and the Way to P.E.A.C.E program is a great example of how state government, non-profits, and community organizations can come together to make our schools and neighborhoods safer,” Brown said.

The Way to PEACE program will be implemented in two Prince George’s middle schools, Benjamin Stoddert in Marlow Heights and Thurgood Marshall in Camp Springs. Those two schools lie in Police District IV, a district bordering the Washington, D.C. border with a lot of criminal activity.

In addition to that, several community groups will be used to accentuate that program in the middle schools. Community of Hope AME Church will be called on for its After-School and Community programming; Step Into the Light Ministries has set up a program for girls, 9-17, living in group homes and foster programs while Circle of Hope will help to train youth in videography.

Jamal Spratley, CEO of Circle of Hope, has been critical of the relationship between law enforcement and the community in the past. He says building relationships like this one between the community, law enforcement and government is important to have safer streets.

“You’re more than likely to tell your friend, who happens to be a police officer, ‘look, this is what’s going on’ when you can trust that friend,” he told the AFRO. “The whole problem is mistrust and a lot of times we’d rather deal with street justice.”

This effort isn’t the first effort to reduce gang activity in the area however. Just last year, Reps. Steny Hoyer, D.-Dist. 5, Donna Edwards, D.-Dist. 4, and Chris Van Hollen, D.-Dist. 8, helped secure 2.7 million in federal dollars to fight gang-related activity.

“Gang violence must be addressed in a comprehensive way, both in the approaches we use and in coordination across jurisdictional lines,” said Hoyer in a statement. “This federal funding will provide a significant opportunity to enhance gang prevention and suppression initiatives in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, as well as bolster anti-gang efforts throughout the Washington Metropolitan Region.”


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO