MILWAUKEE — The City of Milwaukee was dealt a devastating loss, as one of its biggest advocates for peace has passed away.
Hamid Abd-Al-Jabbar, 51, has worked with 414Life and the City’s Office of Violence Prevention for much of the last two years. The program’s work at interrupting violence has saved more than 100 lives. He leaves behind a mother, five sisters and his wife, who has been by his side for 36 years.
Abd-Al-Jabbar's name may not be as familiar as it should be to those in Milwaukee, but that’s just the kind of guy he was. Hamid never looked for accolades. He didn’t even seek out the news media during his work; although he has always been gracious with his time during interviews when requested.
His focus was on fixing the city he felt he had wronged in his youth.
“Children being shot, people being killed, it’s all of our problem,” Abd-Al-Jabbar said in a recent interview regarding violence in the city.
The work done by Abd-Al-Jabbar is the stuff of legend. As a violence interrupter, he would put himself directly in harm’s way. If there was a shooting, he would meet with the family of the victim to help prevent a retaliatory shooting. Other times, he said, he would meet with alleged suspects. He was always met with respect, because that’s what he brought to the table too.
“It’s literally a matter of life and death,” Abd-Al-Jabbar said of his work with 414Life. “When we’re called, we respond.”
Abd-Al-Jabbar never shied away from his past. In speaking on the cycles of violence that permeate Milwaukee, he said, “I, myself, went to prison for homicide. I’ve been a victim of violence and a perpetrator of violence. Our goal is to cut off that transmission from violence to stop that violence.”
He turned his life around to improve the city. 414Life Director Derrick Rogers says, he was taken aback by Hamid’s heart and his desire to be part of something good.
“His desire to want to be part of rebuilding some things that he felt he was part of destroying,” Rogers said. “That was important to him. The man had stamina. It was incredible. His passion would be the other thing. He was very authentic. The work meant a lot to him. The community meant a lot to him.”
This authenticity was what made Abd-Al-Jabbar an excellent violence interrupter.
“He emanated credibility,” Rogers said. “He exuded credibility. His approach was genuine, loving, life-affirming. It was clear, off the top, he cared about you. Even for some seemingly difficult situations and even with difficult people, he was allowed in their space because of what he exuded. That was the greatest attribute he had. Once in those spaces, he was always seeking, in what manner he could improve lives.”
“He was a fearless advocate and was well respected,” Reggie Moore with the Office of Violence Prevention said. “He was known and loved from the block to board rooms. He literally saved lives. He was able to deescalate and mediate situations and have conversations with people that very few people could build trust with. He was a man of his word and extremely committed to this work.”
Mayor Tom Barrett released this statement on Abd-Al-Jabbar's passing.
“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Hamid Al-Jabbar, a man who committed his life to ending violence in our city. Hamid was a generous person who worked to infuse positivity and hope into lives affected by tragedy. Hamid served as an outreach supervisor for the 414Life program through the City’s Office of Violence and Prevention. He was trusted in the neighborhoods he served as a violence interrupter because he understood the very real challenges that people were facing, challenges that he himself had faced. He worked proactively to get ahead of the violence. I am forever grateful to Hamid for the meaningful work he did for our city. He saved countless lives through connection and peace building. I extend my thoughts and prayers to Hamid’s friends and family during this difficult time.”
Abd-Al-Jabbar worked intimately with the Office of Violence Prevention and the entire 414Life team. He also was an integral part of Uniting Garden Homes, Inc. in his efforts.
But whether he was helping a group, or an individual, he made an impact.
“There is a hole left,” Dominee Meek said. “From the time he was released [from prison] until now, he had a heck of an impact on people. I’m still shocked. I’m still floored by it.”
Meek met Hamid about eight years ago in Oshkosh Correctional Facility. The two men have remarkably similar backgrounds; Meek was convicted of murder at age 15 and completely turned his life around in prison. He too owns his mistakes and does not shy away from the wrong he has done, but he’s committed to making it up to the community he left tattered.
“He and I connected through our love of books and our desire to give back after all the harm we had done,” Meek said. “Through our conversations, we built a friendship, a brotherhood really that lasted until my release.”
After Hamid was released from prison, he didn’t stop communicating with Meek. Despite being home to hundreds, if not thousands of people, Meek says prison is a very lonely place. Hamid was one of the only people he met there that he felt he could trust.
“Hamid was someone I didn’t have to worry about behind my back,” Meek said. “He supported me. I could turn to him during my incarceration and talk. There aren’t many people in the joint I felt comfortable going to and opening up about anything, let alone my deep, personal intimate matters, fears, concerns about my future. I was a child when I was incarcerated. He was integral and influential in that stage of my life.”
The work Hamid was doing with 414Life is something Meek hopes to get into. He was just released from prison in September after spending more than 27 years behind bars for a homicide he committed at 15-years-old. He plans on getting involved with 414Life to continue the work his friend was doing.
“We both did things that harmed our community and harmed the City of Milwaukee and our neighborhoods,” Meek said. “We can’t undo the harm we did. We can’t change the past. But we were both committed to doing what we can to influence the future and have positive change for that. We had plans, but my brother is gone.”
While he plans on trying to walk in Hamid’s footsteps, Meek admits no one can do what Hamid did. His unique background and ability to relate to people allowed him to go to any neighborhood, any block and have respect. Young or old, people would vouch for his credibility. His word was strong and anything he did was meant to be for that person’s best interest.
Now, the city has to continue on without its most ferocious fighter for peace.
“When there is a shooting today or tomorrow and nobody is there to intervene, he’s going to be missed,” Meek said. “When there is a potential shooting and there is nobody to intervene and stop it from happening, he’s going to be missed. When this kid, 15-years-old, is about to get sentenced to life because he killed somebody, he’s going to be missed.”
While he never called for the spotlight, he was a beacon of hope for change.
“It’s very important everybody gets involved,” Hamid said in his last interview with TMJ4 News. “Because, it’s all of our problem.”