Why is the issue of gun violence especially important to the black community?
Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. They experience 10 times the gun homicides, 18 times the gun assault injuries, and nearly 3 times the fatal police shootings of white Americans.
Why did you decide to launch an anti-gun violence campaign?
The Anti-Gun Violence Committee of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta decided that creating an initiative centered on an Awareness Model would be the best way to go about disrupting the culture of gun violence which is currently plaguing our city.
What does the campaign include?
Our Awareness Model consists of three areas: (1) A Billboard Campaign; (2) A Media and social media campaign and; (3) Interventions into the Atlanta Public School System where we offer education and training on topics such as conflict resolution along with Poetry, Arts, & Essay Contest. In June of 2021, The Anti-Gun Violence Committee of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta decided that creating another initiative centered on an Awareness Model (Our organization launched a successful awareness campaign in the 1990s) would be the best way to go about disrupting the culture of gun violence which is currently plaguing our city.
Can you elaborate on the Awareness Model? Also, has the 100 Black Men of Atlanta used it before in any of its initiatives?
The One-Hundred Black Men of Atlanta’s “Awareness Program” was a successful model used to curb gun violence in the Atlanta community during the 1990s. Much like the seatbelt and cigarette smoking awareness programs, it involved the entire community via collaboration. In order to promote buy-in, the business community, government agencies, and social service agencies shared the cost of billboards with the One-Hundred that displayed an anti-violence message to promote vested interest in the effort by those community institutions. The billboards displayed anti-violence messages with the names of sponsors and the One-Hundred. The print, radio, and television media were asked to develop and present public service announcements in support of anti-violence. Anti-violence messages were advertised at sporting events. All of which worked to demonstrate the negative effects of gun violence on our lives.
Conflict resolution methods were introduced in public schools. There were anti-violence essay contests and anti-violence rallies in schools, churches, and stadiums. Students formed anti-violence committees and were provided tee-shirts with our anti-violence message. Members of the anti-violence committee were guest speakers at schools. An anti-violence parade and gospel fest with the participation of public schools and church choirs in conjunction with speeches by Atlanta’s Mayor, representatives of SCLC, and other community leaders. The Black Shriners were parade marshals. The Anti-violence committee met monthly and its members included any member of the One-Hundred Black Men as well as members of collaborating organizations. In the same way, the goal of our current “Awareness Model” is to reduce the incidences of gun violence; especially among the student populations that we serve. If we make gun violence unpopular and provide the tools to handle anger and resolve conflict, the goal’s achievement is possible. We are better prepared to achieve success now more than ever. Today we have the Emerging One-Hundred and Collegiate One-Hundred to help carry our mission and save our children’s lives.
What does the Anti-Gun Violence Committee hope to accomplish?
Our goal is to disrupt the gun culture in Atlanta with our Awareness Model. We hope to use our awareness model to change the gun violence culture in Atlanta in the same way that the awareness model was used to change the nation's culture around the usage of seatbelts and cigarettes.
How many children do you expect to participate in the program?
Our goal is to serve at least 100 students under the current GA Power Grant. With respect to the Poetry Arts and Essay Contest, two schools participated in 2021, B.E.S.T. Academy and Frederick Douglass High School. We plan to extend an opportunity in 2022 for all interested APS schools to participate along with any other interested schools in the Atlanta Region.
Why is the program focused on children and not on adults?
Because the mission of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Inc. is to improve the quality of life by supporting and enhancing educational and economic opportunities, particularly for African-American youth in the Atlanta community. However, we know that culture (such as the current gun culture) is all-encompassing, and if it is to remain and grow, its ideas, beliefs, and practices must be passed down. Thus, we know that educating our youth as well as adults is an essential component to addressing this issue. The schools and students who participated in the Poetry, Arts, and Essay contest and the schools who are participating in the programming offered through the GA Power Grant contest are just a start. Our goal is to eventually extend our programming into every school throughout the Atlanta Region in an effort to change the gun culture in Atlanta. We are not opposed to partnering with other organizations so that adults can also benefit from our message and programming. We also welcome adults to join us in our efforts.
What do you hope the students gain from this program?
Since our goal is to change the gun culture in Atlanta, the most aspirational hope is that the students will continue creating and sharing their art and personal stories with others. It would be great if they continued creating art and literary works to encourage others to stop using guns as a means to resolve personal differences and disputes. We also hope they learned that sharing their story can have a powerful impact on others. Their art, poetry, or essay could be the reason someone decides not to pick up a gun to resolve personal conflicts.
How will engaging with young people early help curb gun violence?
Again, our goal is to disrupt the gun culture in Atlanta. Culture is all-encompassing, but in the end, if it is to remain and grow, its ideas, beliefs, and practices must be passed down. Thus, we know that educating our youth is an essential component to addressing this issue. The schools and students who participated in the contest were just a start. Our goal is to eventually work with every school and every student in the Atlanta Public School System in efforts to change the gun culture in Atlanta.
What's the difference between the anti-gun violence program today and the one 100 Black Men launched 30 years ago?
Our current model includes programming related to conflict resolution and other interventions into the school system such as our poetry Arts and Essay Contest along with media and social media campaigns (inclusive of radio and television) whereas our previous Awareness model launched over thirty years ago was limited to billboards.
Was the Poetry, Art, & Essay Contest held at B.E.S.T. Academy part of the Awareness Model?
The Poetry, Art, & Essay contest was just one of several strategies we have used to connect with youth in our city. We conducted a listening session with the GA Department of Juvenile Justice to hear directly from youth who have been involved in gun-related crimes to learn about ways to best connect with young adults. Poetry, Art, and Essays were one recommendation. As such, we launched this contest to both hear from and engage with youth in Metro Atlanta. We have also received a 15K Grant from Georgia Power which will not only provide 10 Modules of programming aimed at reducing incidents of violence but also to compete in a billboard design contest - The winners of the contest will have an opportunity to compete for national recognition.
Why is it important to expose young people to creative outlets, such as art and writing?
Exposing young people to such creative outlets does a number of beneficial things. First, it provides them with a means of freely expressing themselves. Secondly, it gives them the creative freedom to be open and honest in ways they feel comfortable when it comes to expressing their feelings. Third, providing them with unique opportunities such as this lets them know that we want to hear from them in a way they feel most comfortable expressing themselves. When sharing their work at the contest last week, several students broke down crying, and they expressed how embarking upon their work in producing their final pieces, was therapeutic, it provided a new perspective, and it reminded them of just how serious the problem of gun violence is. Many of them had close relatives and friends who had been impacted by gun violence, so competing in the contest also gave them another way to handle and express their grief.
Are you working with any other organizations on this effort?
Yes. We have partnered with GA Power (15K Grant) Outfront Media (Billboards across the city of Atlanta) & Incentive Travel & Meetings ITM). We would like to partner with more organizations as our plan is to expand our Awareness Model, it's messaging, and programming to students across the metro Atlanta region. At the moment we are working with APS schools such as B.E.S.T. Academy (an all-male school), Frederick Douglas High School as well as a non-APS School - Ivy Prep Academy (a private all-girls school).
Who can become a member of the Anti-Gun Violence Committee?
Membership for the Anti-Gun Violence Committee is not limited to members of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. We welcome both individuals and organizations to partner with us. Our meetings take place at Flipper Temple AME where Dr. Reverend Gregory Eason is the Pastor.
Has the Committee collaborated with any other community organizations?
We met with the Atlanta Police Department Police Chief Rodney Bryant, his leadership team and his Director of Public Affairs, the Director of Public Affairs for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations Ms. Nelly Miles, the Director of Victim and Volunteer Services for the Department of Juvenile Justice, Ms. DeBaja Coleman and numerous community organizations such as the King Center and Families First to help us in our efforts. Our meetings take place at Flipper Temple AME where Dr. Reverend Gregory Eason is the Pastor. His church is in one of the APD zones where a disproportionate number of gun-related crimes occur. We have also met with Major Reginald Moorman who is the Zone Commander for that area of the city to learn of ways we can assist in reducing incidences of gun violence.