By Keombré McLaughlin, Living Classrooms Foundation
Last summer, Living Classrooms’ Safe Streets launched an initiative to reduce violence across the city through a collaborative effort with the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety & Engagement, partner Safe Streets sites, and frontline community members. The program, called Safe Summer 2021, was led by Dante Johnson and was intended to be a cohesive, community-driven strategy to “make summer 2021 the safest summer in Baltimore history.”
Safe Summer 2021 was introduced after former Safe Streets Outreach Coordinator and anti-violence activist, Dante Barksdale, was murdered earlier this year. To honor Barksdale, Johnson and the other Safe Streets teams decided to launch the initiative at the corner of E. Fayette Street and S. Caroline Street, where he was killed.
“This year has been particularly devastating when it comes to shootings and homicides across our city. The pervasive culture of violence is something that Safe Streets works to dismantle every day, but this summer we are hoping to harness the energy from all anti-violence organizations to make a coordinated effort to shift this culture, so our city won’t continue to suffer,” said Johnson.
In preparation for the initiative, Johnson partnered with longtime Safe Streets’ supporter, Community Capacity Development (CCD), to set up a three-day training program. These trainings focused on Human Justice, Diplomacy, and The Sustainable Growth Plan (SGP) and united many of the ten Safe Streets sites across the city. CCD’s Cure Violence crisis management model served as a roadmap for collaborating on best practices when combatting violence in the city.
The community-led strategy for Safe Summer 2021 was written as follows:
Prevention: Work closely with neighborhood and community stakeholders to identify and forecast potential hotspots and upcoming community events in order to strategically design preventative peacekeeping efforts that stop violence before it occurs.
Cross-coordination: Lead a citywide cross coordination strategy that will combine the on the ground Baltimore’s Violence Interruption System organizations and frontline grassroots organizations to form a response team that will deploy violence interruption specialists, healers and program leaders in respective neighborhoods.
Community Involvement: Focus and strengthen efforts on increasing community involvement and mobilization through neighborhood canvassing, new communication campaigns, people centered public education projects and the recruitment of volunteers.
“We know that we can get to our people and that we make a difference. We recruit the highest risk. We mediate conflict, we intervene, and we change community norms by way of mobilizing the community,” Johnson said.
Safe Summer 2021 received ample support from other organizations around the city, including Youth Advocate Program Inc, Lifebridge Health and Medstar. Local politicians, like Antonio Glover and Danielle McCray, also endorsed the initiative and supported Violence Interrupters at community events.
To boost morale Safe Streets held three major events at local parks: Druid Hill, Carroll Park and Lake Clifton. The events were done in partnership with other nonprofits and featured music, arts, athletic tournaments, giveaways and a small petting zoo. Events like this represent Safe Street’s dedication not only to preventing violence, but to creating a community.
Despite formal data being sparse, Johnson believes that Safe Summer 2021 was a success and is already planning Safe Summer 2022.