Sunday, January 14, 2007
Word raced through the wide hallways at Roosevelt High School in Northwest: Troublemakers would be showing up after school. And they'd be bringing guns.
Police were on notice outside the gate as Jauhar Abraham walked up. "Peaceoholics?" asked a security guard, waving him through to the office where his partner, Ronald Moten, huddled with students and worried administrators.
Fights had erupted throughout the day: One student was said to have lost teeth. A brawler wanted a ride home to avoid being jumped. Across from the main gate, a dozen teenagers sat on rowhouse steps as two girls recounted the fight.
Abraham and Moten approached the group and asked if there would be more trouble. Spotting a teenager who had previously tried to sneak a gun into the school, Moten's tone remained light even when the boy confirmed his fear: He had a gun.
Moten looked the boy in the eye, leaned in and whispered so no one could hear: Don't start anything stupid, or you'll go to jail. The two shook hands. The teen shifted for a moment, made eye contact with his friends and turned to leave. The others followed.
Another crisis averted by Peaceoholics.
* * *
Moten, 37, and Abraham, 38, are the brains behind Peaceoholics, a grass-roots nonprofit group that confronts young people with reputations as killers and persuades youths to settle their beefs peacefully. The men have learned to toggle between the streets and the establishment without losing credibility in either world.
Three years ago, they struggled to make ends meet. Now they have more than 20 employees and nearly $1 million in government contracts. Several agencies pay them to monitor youths on parole and probation, counsel others about to be released from Oak Hill detention center and engage teens and young adults in activities to keep them out of trouble. They've crusaded against violent video games and the rampant use of expulsions and suspensions.
Most weeks, they reach 300 to 500 young people.
Nadine Evans is among a growing list of believers.
As principal of Young America Works charter school in Northwest, Evans called in Peaceoholics in September to mediate between rival groups of girls. She was so impressed with the truce they negotiated that she hired two Peaceoholics staffers to teach a life skills and mediation class, offered as an elective.