The closing of the offices of One Vision, One Life, the long running violence prevention and intervention program of Allegheny County is a serious setback and detriment to urban communities throughout the Pittsburgh region. For years, under the leadership of Richard Garland and others such as the late El Gray, One Vision, One Life provided much needed street level and neighborhood based violence prevention and intervention services. Not only did the organization help to settle disputes among and between inner-city groups and individuals but provided services such as workforce development, educational, mental health referrals and safe housing.
Based on the “Gang Peace Model,” One Vision, One Life actively recruited and trained former gang members, street hustlers and the formerly incarcerated to serve as ambassadors, outreach workers and program directors in conveying the message of personal responsibility, redemption and urban peace.
Since its closing in April of this year, Allegheny County has been experiencing a dramatic and noticeable increase in the number of homicides, especially among young African-American males. To date, Allegheny County has already surpassed the total number, 73, of people killed throughout all of 2011. More than 73 people, mostly African-American males have died so far during 2012. We still have approximately four months left.
Meanwhile, there is no comprehensive action plan for addressing urban violence from the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and/or the state of Pennsylvania. Our state legislators and governor have not yet seen the importance of advocating for a budget line item dedicated to violence prevention and intervention, even though Pennsylvania continues to be one of the leading states in the nation regarding the number of homicides, especially among Black and Latino males.
Both the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions have become annual killing fields with scores of mostly urban youth murdering and maiming one another in a perverse and ritualistic fashion. Many families, neighborhoods and communities are likewise experiencing the trauma associated with living in such an environment.
As our governor cuts back on funding for public education and social services, we witness an increase in funding for prison construction and expansion. Dollars for law enforcement, criminal justice and prison expansion: no dollars or few dollars for childhood development, education and violence prevention/intervention programs. What message does that send regarding the importance of children, youth and families: especially those of the poor and people of color? We must reject policies and practices of benign neglect and “no vision, no life.”
If you are concerned and support the development and implementation of an action plan which includes the work of groups like One Vision, One Life join us on Monday, Sept. 17, at Monumental Baptist Church, 2240 Wylie Avenue at 6 p.m.
(Khalid Raheem is president & CEO, National Council for Urban Peace and Justice [www.ncupj.net]. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or [www.urban-activist.com])