Advance Peace fellowship promises to curb gun violence in Lansing

Commission to finalize $265K nonprofit contract ahead of October launch

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Local government officials are searching for a nonprofit organization to help launch a new gun violence prevention initiative in the Capital City while they scramble to get a grip on already record-breaking levels of homicides and shootings that have only continued to climb in 2021.

At least 15 people have been shot and killed in Lansing this year out of 16 homicides. Paired with 40 nonfatal shootings and nearly 700 gunshot reports to the Lansing Police Department, the city is on pace to shatter last year’s record-breaking 21 homicides, the highest annual total in at least 30 years. 

And a community-based battle to reverse those trends depends, in part, on a new gun violence prevention program called Advance Peace, which aims to pair at least 25 of the city’s potentially most lethal residents with mentors who can connect them with social services and job opportunities.

Program founder and Eastern High School graduate DeVone Boggan first outlined the concept to the Lansing City Council late last year as a way to help end cyclical and retaliatory gun violence.

Facilitated by a yet-to-be-selected nonprofit organization, Advance Peace aims to provide direct resources to those most affected by local crime — often young Black men who could otherwise become involved in that criminal activity themselves, Boggan told the Council in December. 

“Every day for an 18-month-plus period, they’ll be engaged and given attention unlike they’ve ever had in the past,” Boggan explained. “We want to make sure that these individuals know what is out there for them. It’s hard to dream about something you don’t even know exists.”

Officials expect the three-year program to launch in October. But first, the Ingham County Health Department has to decide which local nonprofit group will orchestrate the initiative.

A request for proposals issued last month offers up to $265,000 to a “community-based” nonprofit group that can hire at least six people to operate the initiative over the next 15 months. 

Advance Peace also employs former felons known as “neighborhood change agents” who form relationships with suspected firearm offenders and encourage their participation in the program — which also includes educational and travel opportunities, case management and therapy.

Participants who are recruited into the 18-month “fellowship” can also earn monthly stipends of up to $1,000 for their involvement in the program, just as long as they keep their noses clean.

Thirty local organizations were invited to submit applications. Responses are due back this week. Interviews will be conducted by the Ingham County Board of Commissioners next month and a decision will be made in September in order to kick the program into gear by Oct. 15, officials estimated.

In 2009, Boggan launched the first iteration of the Peacemaker Fellowship in Richmond, California, where fewer than 30 men were reportedly responsible for 70% of the city’s gun crimes.

The following year, an Advance Peace fellowship launched there reportedly contributed to an 82% reduction in deadly shootings. When it launched in Sacramento, the city also experienced a two-year period without a single youth homicide, Boggan told the City Council late last year.

Mayor Andy Schor, the City Council and the county commission have been largely supportive of the plan in recent months. Schor’s latest budget allotted $240,000 to the program. The commission passed a resolution that aims to pitch in another $590,000 through 2024. All told, as of last week, at least $1.6 million of an estimated $1.95 million to run the operation over the next three years has been committed between government funds and grants, county officials said. And that’s enough to get the initiative up and going by October, Boggan said.

Among the initiative’s most vocal supporters in recent months: County Prosecutor Carol Siemon and City Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley. Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar also penned an op-ed in City Pulse that urged Mayor Andy Schor to pitch in funds in the city’s latest annual budget. 

“Knowing that economic distress exacerbates gun violence, we cannot wait for economic recovery before investing in programs like Advance Peace,” Dunbar wrote. “There is no tomorrow for those killed by gun violence. The time to invest in gun violence prevention is now.”

Added Spitzley: “This program works. We’re looking at crushing crime and gun violence.”

Even with a remaining funding gap of about $350,000, Boggan said the cash commitments secured so far meet Advance Peace’s “threshold” for the “requisite dedication and faithfulness to building a non-law enforcement infrastructure for healthier, safer and more just communities.”

“The mayor stated that his administration is on board with communicating the city’s commitment and intent to fund the strategy for a minimum of three years,” Boggan told City Pulse.

If grants or private donations can’t be found to fill the remaining funding gap, the County Health Department is leaning on county and city coffers to fill the void. The county commission voted to pitch in an extra $35,000 as a contingency this week. Health Department officials have also asked the City Council to pass a symbolic resolution urging Schor’s office to do the same.

Dunbar tried to propose that resolution at a recent Council meeting but a 5-2 vote prevented it from being considered as a late item. Only the mayor can appropriate the additional funding anyway, and Schor said he wants to see a contract before any more cash flows from the city.

“The approved city budget appropriated $240,000, which will be issued once a contract is finalized. The rest will be determined after a contract is finalized and signed,” Schor said. 

One of several invited nonprofits could be tapped to operate the program, including the Firecracker Foundation, the Southside Community Coalition, Cognitive Interventions, Comprehensive Psychological Services and The Village Lansing. County officials declined to provide the number of organizations that applied until this week’s deadline passes. 

Only one of them, however, appears to be working to push back against gun violence, Health Department manager Jessica Yorko told county commissioners this month. And that’s The Village Lansing, led by Erica Lynn and her husband, Michael Lynn Jr. 

The Village regularly works with schools and local families to identify community concerns, provide mentorship and funnel donated resources to the frontlines, according to its website. Yorko said the Lynns also worked to secure “ceasefire” agreements with local teens that led to a weeklong reduction in shootings last month. Those deals reportedly ended on the Fourth of July.

Erica Lynn didn’t respond to questions about her work to mitigate gun violence or whether her nonprofit has or plans to submit an application. The selection, however, may prove controversial — especially since Schor wants to see a written contract before he forks over any more cash.

Lynn Jr. has been among the mayor’s most vocal critics on his Facebook show ‘Merica 20 to Life,’ perhaps more so since he was fired from the Lansing Fire Department. He’s also the co-leader of the Lansing chapter of Black Lives Matter, which has called on Schor to resign from office.

Lynn Jr. also didn’t respond to questions about whether The Village plans to apply.

Meanwhile, the county commissioners voted this week to funnel at least $18,000 to The Village immediately as part of a “Rapid Response Plan” to gun violence — justified in part based on Yorko’s glowing recommendation at a recent committee meeting of the commission.

That cash — part of $57 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds — is designed for education, outreach to impact communities, nonviolent conflict resolution services and more in the months leading up to the expected October launch of the Peacemaker Fellowship program.

The county also allocated another $5,000 to Coat of Many Colors Counseling Services for outreach as well as filling temporary gaps in health coverage for direct services and counseling. 

The city of Lansing also plans to pitch in at least $180,000 to immediately help several nonprofit groups expand summer activities and other community-based programs to keep kids busy and help curb the ongoing spike in gun violence, Schor announced at a press conference this week.

His proposal calls for redirecting a total of $100,000 in unspent cash from the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Parks and Recreation to several nonprofit organizations by next month.

Another $80,000 in unspent Police Department cash will be used for a Youth Athlete Interaction Program to bolster “positive interaction” between local cops and kids through sports leagues and clinics — including new extracurricular programming through the Lansing School District.

The one-time emergency funding was introduced to the City Council this week and referred to a Council committee. The Council is expected to approve the funding maneuver early next month.

Additionally, a “Small Community Organizational Fund” of an unnamed size is set to be established by the city this summer for other Lansing-based, youth-focused organizations to apply for additional funding through the Office of Neighborhoods and Citizen Engagement.  

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