A group that includes community organizers, a workforce development expert and a father of a murdered youth is calling for peace during the holiday season. These men have also revealed plans to, once again, combine their efforts to combat the District’s epidemic of violent crime.
Their approach consists of partnerships with homeless shelters and community centers, visits to District schools and the launch of a young adult job training program centered on IT, security and CDL certification — elements the men described as much more proactive and grassroots than what District government officials can facilitate.
“You are looking at four people who have found solutions. We worked with families and made people with a vested interest sit down,” said Kenny Barnes, founder of ROOT (Reaching to Others Together), a nonprofit launched in the aftermath of Barnes’ son’s murder in 2001.
In the years following the murder of Kenny Barnes, Jr., the elder Barnes and others conducted weekly meetings at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest.
Those sessions morphed into a grassroots movement to quell intracommunity violence and demand proactive solutions from the District government. Barnes’ advocacy, and that of his son’s widow, Annette Gregory Barnes, led to the replacement of the Youth Services Agency with the Department of Youth and Rehabilitative Services.
Barnes, a clinical psychologist, also developed a questionnaire to better understand District youths’ experience with gun violence. On Thursday, he described his collaborative programming as a continuation of that work.
“If you want solutions, look to the people who know [how to develop them] and can speak from a clinical and empirical perspective,” Barnes said.
On Thursday, Dec. 8, Barnes pointed out that not much had changed in the 21 years since a teenager entered his son’s store on U Street in Northwest and killed him with an illegal handgun.
By the time Barnes, Raymond Bell of The Hope Project, David Crocker of the Positive Change Youth Organization and Thomas Blanton, Esq. kicked off their press conference at We Act Radio in Southeast, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recorded more than 190 homicides and more than 1,300 assaults with a deadly weapon in 2022.
Earlier in the week, MPD officials launched a search for a person who brandished a weapon and demanded money from a pedestrian on 14th Street in Northwest. Two days prior, on Dec. 5, police officers found Dana Bailey, 37, dead at the scene of a shooting in the Fort Dupont neighborhood of Southeast.
On Thursday, the four men said they’re working in conjunction with Anne Sewell of Grace Haven Boutique, a Prince George’s County, Maryland organization that addresses domestic abuse, to quell the violence through programming that targets particular populations of marginalized District residents.
Barnes also said he wanted to engage MPD Chief Robert Contee III about officers calling for nonviolence from their patrol vehicles over the next few weeks.
When it came to addressing the root causes of violence, Bell, a workforce development specialist, didn’t mince words. He criticized the District’s response to violent crime, saying that officials focused too much on recreation instead of equipping young people with lucrative skills.
“There is never any serious conversation about jobs. How many people do you see getting arrested for violent crime [when they] make $70,000?,” Bell said. “My students are from east of the Anacostia River. We took the kids that nobody wanted to be bothered with. We made lemons out of lemonade. It’s about the numbers.”
In regard to numbers, Blanton, a veteran union organizer with experience in raising funds for altruistic causes, made the rounds this week collecting money that will support ongoing violence prevention programming. He said he tapped into networks that have long supported grassroots nonviolence efforts.
“This is indicative of the type of energy we have in Washington, D.C.,” Blanton said. “When we do this kind of work, we think about the mothers and grandmothers. We are talking about the spirit of the season. We’re promoting healing and jobs.”