MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County's Credible Messengers program. announced in May, is partnering with five local organizations working to break the cycle of violence in the community. The organizations include:
The aim of the program is to have mentors with lived experience (whether that's with violence, crime, or trauma) to work with at-risk youth in our community and provide positive opportunities.
"It's not a traditional program where you show up. It's a relationship-building program where you're able to develop a bond with someone who has made the transformation from being a destroyer of the community into being a builder of the community," said Deputy Director for the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, David Muhammad.
The program is referral-based, and you can reach out to any of the involved organizations for more information. The program will last six months, but the hope is that the relationships built will last longer than that.
The mentors will come from the previously mentioned agencies. TMJ4 sat down with three of the mentors to learn more about what led them to become credible messengers.
Rod Mitchell works as the after-care coordinator for Running Rebels.
"I grew up on 24th and Hampton and I saw a lot. I saw way more than I needed to earlier than I needed to, got involved with things I shouldn't have," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said his experience growing up made him want to create a different experience for those coming up after him. He got involved with Running Rebels and has already been mentoring youth in the community, but is now taking it one step further.
"It's more about pushing toward the future and what it is that we can do now. I can tell you not to shoot, I can tell you to find something to do and get a job. But if I'm not going to help lead you to that, I'm part of the problem," Mitchell said.
He says it's important for the mentors to be people who know and can relate to what youth in the program are and have gone through.
"It's going to take us, with us, for us to help us. And us is not a race or sex. Us is where these young guys, young ladies come from and to understand what they're going through. Have that relatable lived experience, build those relationships and push on," Mitchell said.
Andre Robinson is another Credible Messenger and the Director of Violence Free Zone for Milwaukee Christian Center.
"When I was growing up my credible messengers were gang bangers and drug dealers," Robinson said. "I want credible messengers, the real credible messengers now, to be able to walk among these young people and say, 'Hey you know what, I may not know 100% what you're going through but I know that my situation was similar to yours and this is what I did to get out of it.'"
Chaz Fortune, a director with Youth Advocate Programs, is also a Credible Messenger. For him, it's about seeing the community transform into a place where kids can just be kids.
"I want to see the communities and things change back to in the day when I was growing up. As far as kids going outside, playing ball for real, as opposed to just going outside, wondering what you're next move is going to be," Fortune said.
Growing up, Fortune said he was familiar with what it meant to create a safe space for others in his community.
"I would say my house was like a resource, my family was a resource. A safe haven. A lot of my friends... we all came together at my house. Anytime, our doors were always open, just trying to be a safety net," Fortune said.
Beyond mentorship, the organizations are coming together to help provide jobs and activities for those involved in the program.