In recent weeks, as carjackings across the D.C. metropolitan region have become more frequent, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), other elected officials and community members have cited the lack of accountability as the main impetus of violent crime among young people.
However, some residents, including mayoral candidate Rodney “Red” Grant, have asked for a more thorough examination of the conditions that lead youth to commit violent crimes.
In the months before his local nonprofit hosts a new cohort of young filmmakers, Grant continues to advocate for additional funding for arts and humanities programming, use of public spaces for youth activities and more interagency collaboration for youth violence prevention.
“When you look at the disparities in funding for these programs in Wards 5, 7 and 8, and you look at the violence and crime, you see the wards that get more money are able to have less crime,” Grant said. “We can point the finger at the children making these horrific life choices, or we can deal with the weeds of the situation. That means being able to grab our youth before they get there.”
During the summer of 2020, Grant launched “Don’t Shoot Guns, Shoot Cameras,” a social and emotional-based learning program which introduces youth between the ages of 12 and 17 to the basics of filmmaking. Partners in that effort include former NBA player Matt Barnes, Yasmin Salina of The Hustlers Guild and Anwan “Big G” Glover of Backyard Band.
Over the course of eight weeks, participants gain technical skills and receive a stipend along with an understanding of how to more effectively handle the trauma they face because of their environments.
“Don’t Shoot Guns, Shoot Cameras” has since entered a partnership with Ballou STAY High School. Another cohort has been scheduled to operate in Los Angeles.
Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Grant, a D.C. native and comedian, hosted, wrote and produced BET’s Teen Summit. He also launched Red Grant Enterprises through which he produced the film “Family Reunion” in partnership with Howard University. That collaboration provided internship opportunities for 15 students.
This followed the start of his career in entertainment and a stint at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation where he coached football and basketball at Ridge Road Community Center and Benning Stoddert Recreation Center.
Since declaring his candidacy last May at Old Market House Square in Southeast, Grant has been a fixture at marches for young victims of gun violence. With members of “Team Red” surrounding him, Grant has also conducted listening tours across the District where he engages residents about issues that include homelessness, the scarcity of healthy food in communities and COVID-19’s effects on small businesses.
Amid Grant’s and others’ efforts to become mayor, the District has recently experienced a disturbing surge in violent crime. Metropolitan Police Department data shows a 21 percent year-to-date increase in violent crime. Property crime has also increased by nearly 10 percent. As of February 4, the number of motor vehicle thefts for this year, 343, had surpassed last year’s total.
Grant, running as an independent, has centered his campaign on public safety, criminal justice reform and mental health programming. Other tenets focus on youth and senior programs, homeless veterans, affordable housing and entrepreneurship as a pathway to the middle class. For education, Grant said he plans to integrate mental health services into District public and public charter schools and implement social programs for youth experiencing homelessness.
Part of actualizing these goals, he said, involves forging relationships within the government without regard for political affiliation and the need to appear right.
“We have to find ways to get along with each other. We share more similarities than differences [so] we have to tap into our similarities,” Grant said.
“Youth are watching and they’ll follow people who are true leaders,” he added. “Leadership starts at the top, like a crown chakra. We’re trying to teach our youth positive ways to handle situations. Who’s going to teach them positivity?” he asked.