Rooftop Revelations: ‘We are connected by blood,’ Project H.O.O.D.’s Violence Prevention Team says

on Feb14
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James Highsmith, the head of Project H.O.O.D.’s Violence Prevention Team, appeared on an earlier Rooftop Revelation to discuss how his team’s efforts prevented as many as 50 retaliation killings a month. Afterward, many readers sent in emails, wanting to know in more detail how the program worked. So, on the 86th day of his 100-day rooftop vigil to raise funds for a building to house the Project H.O.O.D. community center, Pastor Corey Brooks invited Highsmith back to continue their conversation. 

“Why does Project H.O.O.D., or why does the city of Chicago need a Violence Prevention Team?” the pastor asked right off the bat.

“A Violence Prevention Team is a team that is working directly on the street, boots on the ground, working with individuals that’s most likely to shoot or be shot,” Highsmith replied. “Our main objective is that we work [using] the public health approach, where we recognize violence is somewhat like a disease. And what we try to do is interrupt the transmission between violence being spread from one individual or from one group to another.”

Highsmith added: “We recognize that most things are done by choice, and everyone in our community has a choice. However, they don’t have that many options …What we’re trying to do at Project H.O.O.D. is broaden the horizon and broaden the scope in regards to how many options we can give people that they can change the norm.”

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“I know you serve as the director for the Project H.O.O.D. Violence Prevention Team, but tell us a little bit about your team. What’s the makeup of it?” asked the pastor.

“I’m so grateful, and it’s important that you ask that question, pastor,” Highsmith said. “The team that Project H.O.O.D. has put together is a team that is rooted with history and birth in the Woodlawn community … And the most important part about our team is that they are connected by blood. I have five individuals that are members of this team, integral part of this team, who have lost their children to violence, to gun violence, in particular.”

“I have one individual who has lost — she’s the most powerful, one of my most powerful outreach workers — she lost two sons to gun violence. Two,” Highsmith continued. “Not one, two. I have another who have lost his daughter who was less than six months old in his arms, and was shot in his arms. We are connected by blood. They are so sincere about their work because they got blood in the game.”

“So, Highsmith, so let me ask you this: those individuals who work on the team, how do they stop the violence? How do they intervene?”

“Well, pastor, it’s not really that complicated when you got individuals who grew up in the area, know the individuals who are doing this, and get into the cracks and crevices of the community, where they get wind of situations and circumstances prior to them happening,” Highsmith responded. “I’m not talking about sporadic shootings and sporadic killings that happens spur of the moment. I’m talking about things that build up from historical conflicts among groups.”

“Right. Right.”

“We have a mechanism in place where we try to get to our individuals as soon as the shooting is committed, as soon as the shooting has taken place. We move in and we try to identify the guys that are involved, identify the reasons and the circumstances around them, and then try to bring logic into it and try to separate people,” Highsmith continued. “We even do what we call, aggressive shadowing. If we see a guy that’s so emotionally involved, one of us will connect ourself to him and call him every five minutes. Try to get around him every two, three minutes to try to get him in another path, another way of thinking.”

“Especially when there’s retaliation.”

“Especially retaliation.”

“One of the things I want to talk about before we end is that I know you’re working on something very special, and you’re working on a truce, a gang truce,” the pastor said. “Can you explain what a gang truce is and why we need it in this community?”

“A gang truce is when two organizations, groups decide not to shoot no more, try to get a peaceful thing. At this point, where there’s so many shootings and so many violence that taking place, people lost their loved ones and different things, we are pushing towards what you call a nonaggression agreement,” Highsmith said. “What that means is that we try to get these guys to say, ‘Hey, look, you stay on your side. They stay on they side. Don’t slide over there, and don’t they slide over here.’”

“If we get them to agree to that, just that little simple thing right there, then we have an opportunity to move in to broaden it,” Highsmith continued. “We’ll broaden it about by working with each one of these people, putting them in workshops. We got so many non-violent workshops that we putting together for these guys to sit down, talk this stuff out.”

“Do you feel like that’s working?” the pastor asked. “Because I know it’s a lot of different guys from a lot of different cliques that y’all got trying to come together.”

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“Right now, we’re taking baby steps,” Highsmith said. “We haven’t brought them together face to face, but we working with them by working with each and every one of them in their own groups, and we build it. And I’m very, very optimistic that this is going to take place, and we going to have a more calm and more tranquil summer this summer.”

“That’s the goal, to have a calm and tranquil summer because the truth of the matter is in Chicago, it’s been a lot of violence, a lot of shootings,” the pastor said. “We need Violence Prevention Teams. We need people with boots on the ground. So thank you for the work you do. Thank you for the leadership you provide. Thank you for consistently caring about what goes on in the Woodlawn and training all these brothers and sisters to do the work. I appreciate it.”

“Pastor, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity.”

Follow along as Fox News checks in Pastor Corey Brooks each day with a new Rooftop Revelation.

For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.

Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is “What Killed Michael Brown?” Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.

Camera by Terrell Allen.



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