Last Friday, I attended the commencement ceremony for the first ever – anywhere in the country – graduates of a gang-intervention training program sponsored by a city government. The Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA) honored 27 men and women who spent fifteen weeks learning everything from protocol in hospitals, post-traumatic stress disorder, resolving potential violent situations, history of gangs, roots & causes, and many other important issues in establishing peace in our most violent communities. The training was sponsored by the Advancement Project, which received a city grant specifically aimed for this purpose. Another training is being scheduled for the near future. I was one of the instructors for the “Healing & Reflection” class that also involved Fabian Montes and Pascual Torres of Homeboy Industries as well as Orland Bishop of Shade Tree Mentoring. We spent eight hours on our day of training in March with how to find a healing place, the wonder of healing practices, getting centered in the midst of chaos, honoring all spiritual systems (instead of insisting in only one way to go), and helping others get their own healing tools and long-range healing paths. We a while we listened to the stories of the trainees, in some cases quite harrowing testimonies. The trainers were black and brown, men and women, including former gang members, some who had been shot, hospitalized, imprisoned, yet were now committed to mediate, talk, and act for peace in the streets. Many suffer from previous and more recent traumas. They must learn to keep their cool, yet remain firm, to stay on point in the middle of drama and pain, and to know how to move violent energy into resolution, calmness, even beauty. One of the things I emphasized was the value of the arts, all the arts, as well as arts expression as therapy, but also as a way to convey the shaping of community, of creativity as a path out of chaos (not just order, which comes later), and the abundance of imagination we all carry to resolve most violent and depressive circumstances. As many of you know, I also helped formulate a “Community-based Gang Intervention Model” with around forty gang intervention experts, peace advocates, and researchers for around two years that was approved by the LA City Council in February of 2008. Others and myself have also taken this model around the US. It has even been used in other countries, such as Mexico—in my recent visit to Chihuahua, Mexico, including Ciudad Juarez, the deadliest city in the world, I brought copies of the model for others to emulate (and to add/change based on their own local conditions). Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LA Police Chief George Beck, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, Guillermo Cespedes (Director of the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction & Youth Development), and Constance L. Rice (Director of the Advancement Project) were some of the speakers at the ceremony. After receiving their certificates, the graduates, their families, and guests were invited to have lunch and to interract. It was my honor to be part of this historic process. I also have the hopes this training continues to grow so our communities can finally learn to make peace, resolve conflicts, while establishing healing and capacitating agreements that will keep our children, youth, and families safe and with the adequate resources for ongoing health and strong development. The first major step is to save our kids. c/s
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