LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Because of their efforts to bring peace in their Venice Beach neighborhood for more than a decade, Venice 2000 (V2K) has won the ability to expand their gang intervention and prevention services into key gang-riddled South Los Angeles neighborhoods by way of two funding grants awarded by the City’s new Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD) Program.
Stan Muhammad and Melvin Hayward co-founded V2K based on the study course developed by Minister Louis Farrakhan, titled, “Self-Improvement: The Basis For Community Development,” to underscore that changes in gang intervention, changes in their communities and changes in youth, first begin, within the individuals and then spread.
Because V2K’s work lessened violent gang crime, and sustained a gang truce their neighborhood did not qualify for support under the new program. Not working in the area would have meant a possible return of violent crime and broken peace, founders argued.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa developed the GRYD Program as a citywide partnership designed to combat gang violence by inspiring youth, rebuilding communities and establishing safe places of support for youth and their parents.
Targeted areas for the GRYD Program are 12 hot zone neighborhoods where violent gang-related crime rates are 400 percent higher than other areas in Los Angeles. The hot zones are located in Central L.A., East L.A., South L.A. and the Valley.
According to Rommel Hilario of the GRYD Office, V2K/H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation ranked highest (136.2) among 60 groups who vied for grant funding to either continue or begin intervention work throughout the county. Kush, Inc. out of the Watts/Southeast area (135.5) ranked second highest, and Unity T.W.O., based in the 77th Street Division II, also ranked very high with a score of 134.4.
Mayor Villaraigosa’s office did not participate in the selection process, Mr. Hilario said, but relied on oversight teams of three. The 12 agencies were chosen based on proposal scores and site visits, and received six-month start up contracts, totaling some $20 million, which will roll into yearly contracts, Mr. Hilario informed.
“They did well. According to the reviewers, they planted a 10-year history in the Southwest area. They also pointed to the current truce that is brokered by V2K/H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation between the two major gangs, the Rolling 30s and the Rolling 40s. I think that experience plus the demonstrated intervention activity basically in that area really convinced the oversight committee that they have the experience to actually do a pretty solid job,” Mr. Hilario told The Final Call.
He said that what also resonated with the reviewers was that the organization is already connected with an evaluation group at UCLA and looking at how to improve its services through data collection.
“I believe that Allah definitely has had his hand in our affairs. It means that we pretty much had our eyes set on the areas that we’ve served for the past three years. We always wanted to expand, but didn’t have the resources, and now we have the opportunity,” Mr. Muhammad said.
He said that in particular, the group’s efforts to reach out to the Black and Latino populations and integrate services to both was a key component of their selection. “It’s important to service both populations because at the end of the day, when there’s a Black-Brown conflict as there was in Venice, we have to address and communicate with both, and resolve their issues,” he added.
“Everything that we’re doing is predicated on the Study Guides and taking what the Minister has given us in writing and making it a reality in our community. We teach on self-improvement because before we can better the community we have to better ourselves. We give individuals the tools necessary to better themselves because if I cannot improve the quality of my life, how can I improve the quality of somebody else’s life,” Mr. Muhammad continued.
The agencies’ work under the GRYD Program is to deploy teams to respond to gang-related crises in their zones, help dispel rumors to avoid retaliations and provide a crisis model necessary to reduce violence. The groups are to also provide wrap-a-round services to help youth who want to get out of gang life with job referrals, training, drug treatment, counseling, and anger management.
According to Mr. Hilario, a key component in recognizing the work of intervention groups is the GRYD Program’s requirement that each agency hire six intervention workers, a supervisor, and two case managers, in addition to providing a minimum salary ($30,000 annually), health benefits and life insurance.
“We wanted to bring that to the community in order to help sustain this work. It’s tense and life threatening so we needed to provide the workers with some type of insurance to help them and their families,” he said.
(For more details on V2K/H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation and its GRYD Program work, visit www.helperfoundation.org or call (310) 925-2071 or (310) 665-9730.)