Orlando is getting closer to launching its gun violence prevention initiative and is turning to one of the area’s most influential residents to manage it.
The city has hired the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to run the program, which will hire so-called neighborhood change officers to mentor people deemed most likely to be shot or shot at others.
The FRRC is led by Desmond Meade and is the group that led the campaign to pass Amendment 4 in 2018, which restored the right to vote for those with felony convictions who have served their sentence.
“It is often said that those closest to the pain are often the closest to the solution,” said Meade, who was appointed one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019, and Orlando Sentinel’s Central Floridian of the Year in the same year. “If you’re dealing with at-risk youth, you can have someone with a Ph.D. come talk to them, or maybe even have an athlete come talk to them… but when you have someone who has walked a mile in their shoes… I think you get the highest level of impact.
The contract calls for the FRRC to hire a program manager and four change agents, who will operate the program formed by the non-profit organization Advance Peace. Meade said he had attended trainings and seminars with the group over the years and had been involved in gun violence prevention efforts for about a decade.
The city funded the program using $1.5 million from its US bailout allocation, and the FRRC contract is for $535,000.
Additional funds will be used for supplemental service contracts for things like job training and placement, counseling and housing to help those caught up in the violence, said Lisa Early, director of families, parks and recreation from Orlando.
Meade said these services are invaluable, citing her own journey as someone who experienced homelessness and spent time in prison on gun and drug charges, before turning her life around, getting a law degree and becoming the face of the campaign and executive of Amendment 4. director of the FRRC.
“If you go back 10 years or 20 years, I’m the bane of society,” he said. “Desmond Meade used those same resources that we are trying to provide people now. And the ability for me to use those resources has helped a lot. … It gave me power.
Early said Meade and the city have been discussing teaming up on an initiative like this for years.
“[FRRC does] a lot of on-the-ground work in the neighborhoods where we plan to work,” she said. “He knows that, it’s not like giving this program to an entity that doesn’t know what it’s doing.”
The program uses the model created by Advancing Peace, a California-based nonprofit, that identifies people at risk of shooting others or being shot, and specifically attempts to stop retaliatory shootings. To do this, Neighborhood Change Agents work to build relationships and trust with those identified and offer mentorship and productive alternatives.
Advance Peace was in Orlando this week to begin planning the launch of the program with city officials. Representatives of the group declined to be interviewed.
In a recent email to FRRC supporters, Meade said the initiative’s goal was to reduce gun violence by 30% to 60%.
As it happens
Be the first to know with email alerts on the latest important news from the Orlando Sentinel Newsroom.
Those hired will be available around the clock if needed, said Abe Morris, who oversees the program for the city.
Each change agent will likely take 10 to 12 people to keep in touch with, Morris said. When the City Council allocated funds, research was cited showing less than 1% of the population is involved in the majority of shootings.
“Even a small group of 48 attendees can significantly reduce gun violence in the city,” Morris said.
The positions are all full-time with starting salaries between $40,000 and $50,000 per year for change agents, and the manager paid between $65,000 and $75,000.
Meade said success will be in steadily reducing gun violence on the streets of Orlando, which will save lives and taxpayer dollars.
“It’s critical and delicate work, but it’s very necessary,” he said. “It’s not an instant result journey that we’re on right now. It’s something we’re looking to have lasting change and impact.