Milwaukee's Safe Zone Initiative is expanding, and empowering people who live in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.
The program takes people who live in those communities, and turns them into neighborhood ambassadors.
They go through training to build relationships, identify needs, and support resident engagement. Their primary focus is on reducing non-fatal shootings and homicides by identifying and interrupting the cycle of conflict-driven violence.
"At a time when arguments and interpersonal conflict are driving homicides and non-fatal shootings in our community, this is a critical intervention that can save lives," said Reggie Moore, Director of the Office of Violence Prevention. "Having people inside the neighborhoods, who can try to interrupt the cycle of violence, where and when it's happening, is critical."
The Safe Zone Initiative started last year in the Garden Homes neighborhood.
But now, it also encompasses Franklin Heights -- an area that surrounds Capitol Drive between 35th and Teutonia.
According to city data, the Franklin Heights Neighborhood saw a 150 percent increase in homicides last year.
For the Safe Zone Initiative ambassadors, the cause is personal. It’s a way to rise above the negative influences they're surrounded by, and start setting a better example for their neighbors.
"I wanted to gain leadership skills," said 17-year-old Tyrone Flemings. "There are a lot of people my age, who aren't bad people, but they're not doing the right thing. I want to show there's a better way."
"I have lost a lot of people who I really loved — and who were dear to my heart — through gun violence and reckless behavior that could have been solved by simply cooling down and having a conversation," said 24-year-old Desmond Tatum. "Too many innocent people are getting killed. Put down the guns."
They are the residents taking responsibility for their own neighborhood, and fighting for change.
The Safe Zone Initiative is funded with about $100,000 worth of grants from the city and county. Ashanti Hamilton, the president of Milwaukee's Common Council, would like to further expand the program and its funding.