Alternatives to Violence Project Envisions a Non-Violent Syracuse
When: Thursday, April 13, 2017, at 7:00 p.m.
Where: Southwest Community Center
Address: 401 South Ave, Syracuse, NY 13204
On Thursday, April 13th, the ACTS Community Violence and Youth (CV&Y) Task Force will host a meeting on a project they hope will quell the violence in our community. The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), introduced to ACTS a month ago, is now in its planning stage for implementation across Syracuse. AVP is an international movement active in 35 states and 40 nations around the world. The movement teaches conflict management and peaceful solutions through intensive workshops. AVP’s participants often include inmates, gang members, social workers, and social justice activists. Regardless of each person’s past, the common reward between participants has consistently been a future changed for the better. During the April 13th meeting at the Southwest Community Center, Timothy Kirkland is expected to be voted in as the new Co-chair of the CV&Y Task Force. Kirkland is a former inmate, an AVP advocate, and a leader in the Community Empowerment Organization (CEO). Together, ACTS will plan future AVP trainings, their locations, and how we wish to adapt their format to fit the diverse circumstances of Syracuse. All are welcome to attend.
The need for a program like AVP has never been more urgent. As the curtain fell on 2016, so ended the deadliest year in Syracuse’s history. Of the record number of 26 homicide victims, most had known their killers. “The shootings…are typically not random, stranger-on-stranger acts of violence,” according to Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler in an article for Syracuse.com. With the swell of murders comes a severe uptick in non-lethal shootings as well, meaning the violent trend could continue through 2017. If most shooters and victims know each other, then perhaps AVP could better prepare the community for inevitable conflict. More importantly, AVP could save lives and prevent people from landing in prison through its ability to empower community participants, intervene in troubled lives, and teach serenity to those with quick tempers. After all, the AVP program was devised and tested not in a cushy office, but behind bars.
History of AVP
AVP began within the concrete walls of prison. Its founding members, soon called the “Think Tank,” were prisoners who witnessed the Attica Prison Riots of the 1970’s. A thousand inmates had seized control of the prison grounds and demanded better living conditions and basic political rights. Although some demands were negotiated, New York State Police stormed the prison by force and ended the protest and hostage situation. The riots ended with 43 people dead, 33 of of whom were prisoners.
“[The prisoners] carried out the cold-blood killings they had threatened from the outset,” declared Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The Coroner, however, attributed only one death directly to the actions of the prisoners. It was an atmosphere of conflict, face-saving, and chaos, with little effort toward amelioration.
The “Think Tank” prisoners were sobered by the senseless violence. Worse to them, however, were the missed opportunities to diffuse the riots peacefully. As they looked around, they recognized the conditions which gave rise to the riots in the first place. Poor prison conditions were partly responsible. But, more dire was the lack of adequate rehabilitation offered to prisoners. The “Think Tank” noticed youth enter their prison for minor offenses, only to be reincarcerated time and time again for increasingly severe crimes. It was as if the Attica prison gates were a revolving door. It was Mass Criminalization.
The “Think Tank” teamed-up with Quaker activists and developed their first workshops together. Eventually, AVP extended beyond the barbed wire and into schools, communities, and youth centers.
AVP and the Mission of ACTS
AVP believes that everyone has an untapped power to positively transform themselves within and, then, the world around them. The Alliance of Communities Transforming Syracuse (ACTS), in conjunction with the National Action Network, will bring AVP workshops to Syracuse. ACTS needs involvement from its Member Organizations and all others in order to host these workshops widely and successfully. The workshops have no leaders, just facilitators, and all participants are on equal footing. Activities, discussions, and practical lessons on conflict management, non-violence, and empathy are fundamental components in the official AVP certification one receives upon the conclusion of the session. The workshops are based on the principals of affirmation, unconditional respect, cooperation, and trust. Those who participate may see their life changed irrevocably for the better.
The New CV&Y Task Force Co-Chair
Aneesah Evans, current chair of the CV&Y Task force and Coordinator of the ACTS Youth Council, will transition gradually away from her position as Task Force Chair. After years of dedicated service, Evans, a mother of five children, has decided to assume a reduced role in the coming months. The CV&Y Task Force will miss her patient leadership, and the spot she leaves behind promises a formidable challenge for whoever takes the reins. Timothy Kirkland, however, is more than worthy of this challenge. Through a life full of struggles and redemption, he has acquired a fearless resilience. After the first ACTS-AVP meeting in early March, Kirkland stepped up as candidate for Co-chair of the CV&Y Task Force. He is expected to be voted in on the April 13th meeting. In our March 20th issue of the Newsletter, we featured Kirkland’s inspiring story, which we invite you to read in the excerpt below.
“Kirkland is a father of two grown boys, the recipient of a degree in Business Communication, and a man who spent almost half of his life in and out of prison. He believes “everyone has some good and bad in them; one normally dominates the other.”
There is a Cherokee folk story that says everyone has two wolves inside of them. One is angry, envious, greedy, arrogant, insecure, and frustrated. The other is a wolf of love, peace, joy, graciousness, humility, wisdom, and self-confidence. The legend goes that a young man asked his grandfather which wolf will win in the end. To that, the grandfather looked heavily at the man and said, “Whichever you decide to feed.”
Kirkland had fed the bad wolf for 19 years, and let it dominate its way into prison time after time. One day, however, while still in prison, he decided to attend an AVP workshop. The good wolf in him learned to solve conflict and communicate positively. The workshops, which he found invaluable both in and out of prison, transformed his life remarkably. He held down jobs and worked his way out of the hole he had found himself in. His sons, just like the Cherokee legend, seem to reflect opposite sides of the same coin. One attended college for Broadcasting and Communication, the other served eight years for armed robbery. He loves them both dearly, and thinks one son shares his pain and struggles through prison, while the other proudly engages his dreams and aspirations. In the end, he hopes to be a positive role model for both, to feed the good in them until it prevails. More importantly, he believes the same about Syracuse. AVP represents an opportunity to steer youth away from violence and change their lives for the better, before they make the same mistakes he did.”
Snapshot from the previous AVP meeting:
Timothy Kirkland is pictured on the left edge of the frame.
The ACTS Youth Council will be represented at the April 13th meeting by one or more of their members. Additionally, many of the representatives from a plethora of community organizations who attended the last AVP meeting are expected to return. Together, they form a group resolved to foster non-violent solutions to the growing problems of Syracuse’s vulnerable neighborhoods.
For more information on the ACTS Youth Council, read the related article from our March 27th issue of the Newsletter.
Other organizations and groups who attended the March AVP meeting include: