The nearly two dozen young men who completed the fourth round of the Pathways Program spent nine weeks developing as professionals, learning essential life skills, and reflecting on past mistakes, all while bonding with one another and their program facilitators at the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) in Northeast.

The 22 newly promoted Pathways ambassadors received words of wisdom and encouragement at their ceremony from representatives of ONSE, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, and the Executive Office of the Mayor. In their remarks, some officials, like ONSE Director Del McFadden, explained how self-reliance and family support will go hand in hand.

“You’re being applauded for your accomplishments. This is one step of many and there’s a long way to go,” McFadden said in his congratulatory message to the group of young men during the Dec. 13 ceremony at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant in Northwest.

That morning, several family and community members poured into a spacious auditorium to celebrate the graduates, each dressed in neatly fitted suits and most sporting neatly twisted locs. The three-hour event culminated a process where the young men, at one point considered most likely to be a victim or perpetrator of violent crime, reflected deeply on the path they wanted to forge through a business plan competition and other introspective activities.

In his remarks, McFadden reminded the young men that their work had only just begun, especially since they had been in the process of securing six months of employment subsidized by ONSE with the possibility of future advancement.

“Worry about yourself. Commit to yourself. Challenge yourself,” he implored his Pathways ambassadors. “Give it to yourself. You must focus on the individual and the foundation. Family, we need you all to stay on these guys, press them out when they’re turning in the wrong direction. It’s our job to get them where they need to be.”

The Pathways Program came into fruition through the D.C. Council’s unanimous passage of the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act. That legislation, introduced by D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), implemented a holistic, public health-focused means of reducing violent crime. ONSE, a Northeast-based agency created by the NEAR Act, manages the Pathways Program and other community-based activities aimed at providing participants with the tools for self-sufficiency.

Last month’s promotion brought the number of Pathways ambassadors — those who’ve completed the Pathways program since its inception — to more than 80. Data on ONSE official site says more than 90 percent of Pathways Program graduates have avoided criminal involvement. This fiscal year, a $365,000 allocation by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has paved the way for participants’ wage increases.

During the nine weeks, the young men, whose ages ranged from 20 to 35, spoke about their trauma and past losses to a mental wellness professional commissioned for weekly events touted as wellness hour. They also sharpened their financial literacy, practiced conflict resolution techniques, completed community service projects at Anacostia Park and DC Central Kitchen, learned about opportunities in real estate, and launched a radio program. The young men also embraced a change of scenery with a white water rafting trip and hike through the park.

With each experience, they grew closer and more candid about their frustrations attempting to gain employment with a criminal record.

Such was the case for Pathways ambassador Deandre Providence, who entered the Pathways program after an unsuccessful job hunt. With improved interview skills and a new opportunity at the Department of Public Works (DPW) on the horizon, Providence said he remains set on advancing professionally over the next few years.

“I always passed interviews but background checks would stop me. Someone wasn’t giving me a chance,” said Providence, a Northwest resident and DPW driver with goals of eventually holding a management position at the agency.

“There were a few brothers going through the same thing. That leaves us with no other choice but to do [other] things for money,” he continued. “I did a lot of dumb stuff when I young before I had my kid. The older I got, my way of thinking changed. Everyone deserves a second chance, to prove that they’ve matured and grown.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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