MILWAUKEE — Just a few weeks ago the basketball court at Sherman Park was surrounded by crime scene tape after a 17-year-old was shot and killed. On Wednesday, the court is where Milwaukee County officials and representatives from local organizations gathered to announce Credible Messengers, a violence prevention program aimed at providing support for youth in the community.
"So many individuals find themselves in the system because they lack a mentor to guide them to the care that they absolutely need," said County Executive David Crowley.
Credible Messengers is a "community-based approach to youth justice that focuses on transformative mentoring and restorative justice in action," according to a release. The program will have 23 mentors from organizations including 414 LIFE, Milwaukee Christian Center, Running Rebels, Westcare, and Youth Advocate Program.
"[Mentors] will work in community-based settings such as parks, neighborhoods, door-to-door and block-to-block to engage youth and community members," said Milwaukee Co. Health and Human Services Deputy Director David Muhammad.
According to the Division of Youth and Family Services, "Credible Messengers have shared life experience with the youth they are mentoring and will focus on an Intervention or Prevention Track supporting justice-involved youth or young people identified as high risk by the community."
The program will work with 68 justice-involved and high-risk youth, connecting them to resources and support.
"Whether that be connections to job opportunities, treatment for a substance abuse problem, or just someone to encouraged you to achieve your goals," Crowley said about the program.
Although the program will work with justice-involved youth, it is not connected to the courts and cannot be court-ordered.
Ultimately, the program hopes to prevent more of the youth-involved violence Milwaukee has seen so much of this year.
Since January, 26 kids have been shot, and six have been killed. That number is up from the last couple of years during the same time frame.
But the numbers don't tell the whole story.
"All of the percentages of the negativity that's happening, you don't even see everything that's been prevented," said Co-Executive Director of Running Rebels, Dawn Barnett.
Running Rebels is one of the organizations involved with Credible Messengers and has been working in the Milwaukee community for decades to mentor kids and help prevent violence.
"We're going to keep doing what we're doing. We're going to keep finding young people to use their stories of transformation to help others, and we're going to work with each other in a way that you've never seen before," Barnett said.
Eventually, the Credible Messengers program hopes to expand to reach even more kids in the community.