As the total for 2019 D.C. homicides nears 60, some people on the front lines of local violence prevention efforts said youth and adults must learn and practice the emotional intelligence needed to avoid deadly conflict. A conflict resolution manual has been touted as the newest tool in reaching that goal.
The Alliance of Concerned Men recently released its Conflict Resolution & Youth Training Resource, an 88-page document that explores the origins of conflict and outlines solutions for addressing differences. In the weeks since its launch, members have announced partnerships for citywide implementation and the development of an accompanying mobile app and animation.
“We created this manual to give people the skills to facilitate themselves in situations they come across, and show them how to circumvent problems,” said Tyrone Parker, executive director of Alliance for Concerned Men, an organization that has provided District youth and families with a bevy of resources, including conflict resolution between neighborhood crews, for nearly three decades.
Late last month, the Alliance of Concerned Men released its manual at an event that featured Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham, WUSA-TV (Channel 9) news anchor Bruce Johnson, Tanieica Byrd of Momma’s Safe Haven, Alliance of Concerned Men Youth Ambassador Ty’velle Wilson, Dr. David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Dr. Joseph Richardson of the University of Maryland.
The Alliance’s Conflict Resolution & Youth Training Resource represents a collaboration with the American University (AU) School of International Service that started in the aftermath of the 2015 death of AU student Matthew Shlonsky, who was killed by a stray bullet during a daytime shootout on 7th Street in Northwest.
Shlonsky friends and family established a fund in his name, part of which financed the two years of research done to create the manual. In that time, the Metropolitan Police Department reported nearly 300 homicides. The 2018 total of 160 surpassed that of the previous year by more than 40 percent.
“When we started Alliance of Concerned Men, it was about the gangs and crews, but now violence has gotten more spontaneous,” Parker continued as he explained the importance of the Conflict Resolution & Youth Training Resource.
“We’re working with young people and they’re utilizing the practices of the manual for everyday use. They’re learning to be compassionate, concerned, and putting themselves in the place of others,” he said.
The manual supports the Alliance of Concerned Men’s train-the-trainer program, through which nonprofits and other providers learn how to teach conflict resolution to youth and adults designated as peace-builders.
Various activities outlined in the manual help participants learn their triggers, analyze their identity, and address their strengths and weaknesses. Chapters on conflict and restorative justice show readers how to teach self-awareness, critical thinking, restorative justice, and negotiating skills to youth and adults.
To create the manual, Alliance of Concerned Men engaged 20 youth from the communities surrounding 7th and O Streets in conversation about the ongoing violence, its key causes, and what they believed to be solutions. Organizers said some of the youth expressed their desire for more extracurricular activities and pledged to turn in their guns. They also recounted youth visits to American University for the individualized conflict resolution and life skills training that incorporated evidence-based best practices.
“We want people to know their neighbors, understand their trigger, and understand that when you take a step back and think before you react, things can change,” said Clayton Aristotle Rosenberg, chief operating officer of Alliance for Concerned Men for nearly three years. “The violence is not continuing. People go off of what they feel in that moment. Transformation is possible, and people can use healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”
The release of the Conflict Resolution & Youth Training Resource comes amid conversation about increasing violence and concerns about police-community relationships. In early May, when Mayor Muriel Bowser announced an impending influx of officers in six neighborhoods, some residents bemoaned the possibility of youth getting harassed.
In recent years, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement’s violence interrupters had been one of the city’s tools in quelling neighborhood disputes. That work builds on what organizations like the Alliance of Concerned Men has done since 1991 in engaging youth from Simple City, Benning Park, Kenilworth, 640, and other D.C. neighborhoods.
Onetime D.C. resident Derrick Ross attested to the Alliance of Concerned Men’s role in the conflict resolution space. He said their process gave him some awareness about the severity of the situation unfolding in his Southeast neighborhood during his late teens.
“The Alliance of Concerned Men gave us an opportunity to talk to the other side,” Ross, a maintenance superintendent who has lived in New Orleans since 2010.
“By then, everyone wanted to stop the violence,” he continued. ” We just didn’t have a way to tell each other it would be OK. When we got to the table, we asked how did we get to the point that we don’t care about each other. That was the hard part about it, especially for me.”