New Hope For Peace In Shaw
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Once again, Tyrone Parker feels a special kind of joy, a satisfaction so deep "it's indescribable," he said. "To know that we've played a part in transforming these young lives that were at risk, I could never explain what that's like."
Once again, Parker, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Alliance of Concerned Men, sees hope for a generation of young people in a District neighborhood racked by violence.
This time, the hope is in Shaw in Northwest Washington, where two gangs, the 7th and O crew and the 5th and O crew, had long been fighting over turf, leading to numerous shootings. Now, thanks to Parker's group, the sides have agreed to a cease-fire.
Tomorrow, instead of warring over the rights to a patch of urban pavement near the city's Kennedy Playground, several dozen young men and teenagers plan to meet in peace, to talk with D.C. officials about jobs, education, recreation and meaningful futures.
"To be able to know that we have mothers and fathers and kids that will be together, and it won't be for a funeral but to celebrate a new beginning, that's a great thing," said Parker, 56, who has helped broker several cease-fires among area gangs in the past decade. "They're helping themselves."
No one knows how long the peace will last. But Parker, who served a prison term for robbery in the 1970s, then vowed to steer others from the same path, said he has faith. And he needs it to do the work he does.
Formed in the early 1990s, the Alliance of Concerned Men evolved out of Parker's grief over the slaying of his 21-year-old son, Rodney Martin, a rap singer who was shot outside a Prince George's County skating rink in 1989. Many of the group's members, including Parker, are old friends who grew up together on Capitol Hill and attended Eastern High School.
"We all have colorful backgrounds," Parker said. "We basically have made ourselves known in the community. And because we come from the same place as these kids live, it gives us the legitimacy and the authority to go into almost any neighborhood."
In 1997, the alliance mediated a bloody dispute between factions of one of the city's most violent gangs, the Simple City Crew, based in the Benning Terrace housing project in Southeast. After a 12-year-old boy became a highly publicized victim of war, shot to death on the street, Parker and his friends persuaded gang members to put down their guns and talk. Violence dropped off considerably, and many of those involved in the Simple City truce got out of the gang life permanently, Parker and others said.
The group has since brokered other truces in the District and Prince George's.
"We don't preach; we teach," he said. "Basically it's about making them aware of what they're actually accomplishing and what they're destroying. From the point of view of what they're accomplishing, it's almost nothing. Because they're dealing from a perspective of image and ego. Being territorial, worrying about reputations. And it's trivial.
"So we try to get them to begin to understand the damage that they're creating -- to themselves, to their communities, to their loved ones. To see the overall perspective. And to a large degree, they're not really aware of that."
What the alliance has found, Parker said, "is that a number of these kids don't want to be involved in the things that they're involved in. But they don't really have any other lifestyle. They don't know anything else."
And when they finally discover something else -- when they are given educational opportunities, job training and hope -- many of them turn away from violence, Parker said.
In Shaw, the group's weeks-long mediation effort came to fruition last week when 45 members of the rival crews, meeting for nearly three hours at the alliance's office on 11th Street NW, agreed to a truce. To help ensure a lasting peace, they are scheduled to meet tomorrow at the Kennedy Playground with officials of the mayor's office, the D.C. Council, the Department of Employment Services, the Department of Parks and Recreation and other agencies.
"The challenge is not the availability of services," Parker said. "The challenge is the connection. The challenge is getting the kids to take advantage of what's available, because they don't understand how to navigate the system."
And when the challenge is finally met: "I don't know how to put it into words," he said. "My delight and pleasure and joy."