A Busy Season for Talks, Dialogues, and Community Engagement

My fall schedule of events began last week--this season being one of my busiest. I spoke at San Francisco State University and at Cal State, Dominguez Hills over the past few days. Next week I'm in Chicago and Philadelphia.

But before I address these events, I want to relate about the Community Engagement Advisory Committee's report to the LA City's Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development that was made on September 13. Headed by City Councilman Tony Cardenas (my wife Trini's youngest brother), the Ad Hoc committee has been supporting the Community Engagement Advisory Committee's work to create a truly viable and comprehensive street peace plan and gang intervention model. I believe we have it--at least one of the best I've ever seen.

Several members of the Community Engagement Advisory Committee, including yours truly, spoke on the various aspects of a new gang intervention model and levels of gang intervention work we came up with. The most powerful words came from young people, Black and Brown, in South Central LA working with the Youth Justice Coalition. I will say that the councilpersons present--including Cardenas and Janice Hahn--were open and receptive to our words and report.

I've been part of this committee since April after LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled his "Gang Reduction Strategy." While we all welcomed this development, we also felt his plan needed a lot of work. Councilman Cardenas charged the Community Engagement Advisory Committee--made up of gang intervention specialists, academics, community leaders, and others--to re-examine what the city can do to create real urban peace and help bring meaningful gang intervention work center stage to any violence reduction plan (based on the vital report of the Advancement Project that called for a concerted and adequately-supported prevention/intervention approach to the violence instead of what LA is known for--police-led suppression and more suppresion).

We wanted to make sure this plan and model were not only effective, meaningful and long-standing, but also imaginative, visionary, clear, and filled with hope. I'll post the new plans on my website soon for anyone to access. I'm honored to have worked with the various persons and organizations--including activists from the Mexican/Central American, African American, Asian, and White communities--who took part. Most important was the Black and Brown unity (the vast majority of gangs and gang violence are in the Latino and African American communities) that was temporarily created precisely by working on the common issues, traumas and inequities that connect both communties in a way that is healing, regenerative and respectful to all.

For example, South Central LA by itself has the same homicide rate as that of the world's most dangerous countries in Africa and Central America. The murder rate of Latino males in LA is even higher, although the murder rate of African American males is twice that of Latino males. We are in deep trouble here unless we come up with a truly empowering, inclusive and resource-laden response. It appears suppression led or dominated gang violence reduction plans have only made this situation worse.

Since our reporting meeting to the Ad Hoc committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development (we will continue our work--it's not finished yet), I'm talking about this work and model wherever I can. On September 19, I traveled to the Bay Area to address the Safe Communities Reentry Council's 2nd Annual Reentry Summit ("Working Together to Support San Franciscans After Incarceration") at San Francisco State University. Hosted by San Francisco County Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and including remarks by SF County Supervisor Ross MirKarimi and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, I was able to bring up the essence of our work to great applause and support. The main thing is that here in California we all have to do more to stop the largest prison system in the nation (currently holding 176,000 prisoners) from growing even larger, and the ongoing gang violence claiming many of our best and brightest.

Rehabilitation in prisons and juvenile facilities must be a reality for all institutions (although there are some good programs and people involved in prisons and juvenile facilties that are making a positive difference--I know a number of them--much of so-called rehabilitation is lip service or non-existent). And we need viable and ongoing re-entry programs for those coming out of these institutions. We must not throw away or abandon our young men and women who have made mistakes and had to be incarcerated. They will either come out as changed, wise, and positive contributors to our communities, or (as we see today) hardened criminals and offenders trained in prisons to be better at crime and violence than before they came in (without real rehabilitation and re-entry programs, we're paying for this out of tax payers' dollars).

I also had a wonderful poetry reading on September 20 at California State University, Dominguez Hills (in the southern LA area). The place was packed--who knows how many showed up but it looked to be from 300 to 500 people. Poetry is a harder thing to win people over to, considering that there are few poetry events in universities these days. But everyone there was attentive and totally into the reading. I even sold all my books and most of the CDs I had brought with me.

Expanding our ideas of what is truly responsible (and responsive) urban peace is vitally crucial today. As I've said, I'm helping spread the word about our work in LA as widely as I can--as an evangelist for peace, social justice, and truly liberating policies and programming (and in the long-run, for a cooperative, all-encompassing and truly healing and revolutionary social compact).

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