Gun violence prevention initiative delayed in Greater Lansing

Ingham County relaunches search for community-based nonprofit

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(This story was corrected at 10:49 a.m. to include a claim from Mike and Erica Lynn about the selection process.) 

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 6 — Plans to roll out a gun violence prevention initiative in Greater Lansing this month have been paused for at least another month while county officials relaunch a search for a local nonprofit organization that can help operate the community-based program.

Last month, county officials planned to allocate up to $265,000 to a local nonprofit organization that could hire six people and launch a gun violence prevention program called Advance Peace.

That long-anticipated initiative was first introduced to the Lansing City Council last year by its founder, Eastern High School graduate DeVone Boggan, as a way to help interrupt cyclical gun violence as the city’s homicide rates climbed to their highest level in decades — at least 21 in 2020. That rate has only continued to climb with at least another 22 reported so far this year.

The new initiative — which also depends on $240,000 in funding from the city of Lansing — is designed to enroll up to 25 of the city’s most potentially lethal residents into an 18-month mentorship program that provides counseling, job opportunities and other social services.

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 organizations were invited to submit applications to the county in September with plans to kick the program into gear by Oct. 15. But because only two nonprofit groups applied, county officials said they decided to tap the brakes this week and relaunch the search process from scratch.

Ingham County Controller Gregg Todd said that he decided the initiative should be rebid for at least another four weeks “based on the number of proposals received as compared to the size and scope of the work.” Todd hopes to have a new request for proposals online next week — which will delay the launch of the program through at least the end of the month, officials said.

One of the only two nonprofit groups to submit an application to operate the program was The Village Lansing, which was formed in 2019 by Erica Lynn and her husband, Michael Lynn Jr.

County commissioners were slated to follow a staff recommendation last month and approve the funding for The Village, but the resolution that would’ve been forwarded on to the Commission was abruptly pulled from a committee agenda without a public explanation on Monday, Sept. 15.

Lynn Jr. is a former firefighter who is suing the city of Lansing and Mayor Andy Schor for alleged racial discrimination. He’s a former co-leader of the local Black Lives Matter chapter and has been one of Schor’s most vocal critics on his talkshow, "Merica 20 to Life," which is recorded in a studio on Cedar Street, about a mile away from The Village offices on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Despite unsubstantiated claims from Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar that Schor had privately met with county officials to derail funding for The Village, Todd said he was not aware of any specific concerns about The Village. He also said the group is encouraged to apply again next week.

“There was just concern that the original RFP limited possible bidders and we wanted to make sure we were including all that could potentially do this important work,” Todd said.

Schor said that commissioners had asked him about his relationship with Lynn and The Village and he gave an “honest answer,” but did not attempt to persuade or dissuade them of anything.

“They are elected officials and will make up their own minds,” Schor explained to City Pulse last week. “I relayed that what I care about is what is best for the youth that would be impacted by the program, and that the commissioners should do what is best to reduce crime and help reform those that have gone down the wrong path in Lansing. That is my top concern.”

Erica Lynn told Merica 20 to Life viewers on Wednesday that the county decided to rebid the project, in part, because she and Michael Lynn Jr. posted a photo to Facebook with her holding out her middle finger in front of the city of Lansing seal.  Deputy County Controller Teri Morton said that county commissioners  were concerned over that post, but it didn't play a role in the rebid.

Todd also said that the application requirements “may be amended” amid an effort to enable more vendors to bid on the project, though he declined to elaborate on the potential changes other than to say he wants to make it “more accessible to attract additional bidders.” Michael Lynn Jr. told Merica 20 to Life viewers on Wednesday that The Village plans to resubmit an application. 

While homicide rates continued to rise in late July, the Ingham County Board of Commissioners voted to allocate at least $18,000 to The Village as part of a “rapid response plan” to gun violence. That cash — part of $57 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds — was also designed for education, community outreach, nonviolent conflict resolution services and more.

The nonprofit was selected then, in part, because it regularly worked with local families to identify community concerns, provided mentorship opportunities for teenagers and was among the only community-based groups working directly on the frontline to interrupt a retaliatory cycle of gun violence in the Capital City, according to Health Department manager Jessica Yorko.

Michael and Erica Lynn also helped secure a “ceasefire” agreement over the summer that led to a weeklong reduction in shootings in Lansing, Yorko told county commissioners. The nonprofit group also operates as a sort of community center to help keep young people out of trouble — including hosting multiple chess clubs for different ages and funding firearm safety classes.

Convincing Schor to sign a six-figure contract with the organization, however, may prove controversial. Although his administration’s latest budget calls for $240,000 for the first year Advance Peace, Schor has said that he wants to review a contract before the cash can flow.

Schor also insisted last month that he wouldn’t let “personal disputes” interfere with budgets and preventative programming, but that was before Lynn Jr. rolled out a $5,000 prize last week to a musician who writes amd records a song titled “Propagandy Schor” by Oct. 22.

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