Oakland was number 3 on the list of most dangerous cities in America based on violence crimes per 100,000 individuals. There were 1,085.9 robberies per 100,000 residents in Oakland in 2012, higher than any other city. This was also significantly higher than the 851.2 robberies per100,000 just a year earlier. The rates of murder and aggravated assaults also increased in 2012 compared with 2011. Violent crime was not the only issue in Oakland, eitherâ€”there were 6,594 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 2012, more than all but eight other cities, and up from 5,287.9 in 2011.
In 2013, Oakland officially launched the Ceasefire Strategy which led to a near 40% reduction in homicides over the last three years. One of the main discoveries has been the necessity for an incentivized mentorship model that empowers community members highest at risk with immersion experiences leading to their subsequent peacemaking work in their neighborhoods. Similar models have been effective in Richmond, CA and Providence, RI.
People got to understand that we are in recovery! Changing your life around takes more than a job. A job is cool, but you need to learn how to deal with trouble without using violence, especially in conditions where youâ€™re facing violence. People always want me to fill out some papers and I get it, but sometimes I need a hug, someone to call, and help going in the right direction. I donâ€™t need judgment, but I do need some understanding. People gotta recognize that we are sick from the streets and need recoveryâ€¦
â€“ Jason, Ceasefire Client (name has been replaced to protect privacy)
Empower Initiative facilitates an educational and formative platform for high-risk individuals in biweekly, incentivized sessions (group centered activity that teaches and discovers practices of non-violence and deescalation around violence and community-based trauma) over the course of a calendar year. Participants and mentors attend to discuss relevant content leading to the matching of mentors to participants for bi-weekly coaching sessions. This journey is culminated by a trip to Israel/Palestine in partnership with Global Immersion Project to see a global context of peacemaking by directly impacted individuals.
Empower Initiative provides quarterly trainings, in partnership with The Mentoring Center (Oakland, CA) to develop qualified mentors for directly impacted community members. This is a 2 day training, focused on building the capacity around the root-causes of trauma and the base learning needed to participate in the Peacemaking Study & Practice Group.
Gynelle, a California native, is an impassioned advocate for the under-served of society. In the spirit of that passion, Gynelle acquired a Bachelorâ€™s degree in Psychology from Mills College, while serving as a volunteer for Cityteam, a ministry dedicated to the disenfranchised. Gynelle honed her skills for advocacy by working with the California Mentor Network and as an Interventionist for Oakland Technical High School. As an Interventionist, Gynelle is keenly skilled at building personal development programming for the high-risk population. She serves as the Administrator for Empower Initiative.
Ben has been a long-time advocate for peace and justice through spiritual and community-based leadership.
Serving as an executive director of non-profit organizations and a religious leader for nearly 15 years, he moved into one of Oaklandâ€™s, difficult neighborhoods and became an instrumental partner in relaunching Operation Ceasefire, leading to a 35% reduction in homicides over two years. As a part of that strategy, Ben became the primary civilian trainer for the departmentâ€™s Procedural Justice & Police Legitimacy Course, his participation being the only expression in the nation.
Ben is currently focused on reform through policy and training leading to accountability.