ENGLEWOOD — Consistency, honesty and transparency are essential elements to any relationship, but for violence prevention outreach workers like Rodney Phillips it can be the difference between life and death.
“Being known to keep your word is the most important thing in this work because you have to get buy-in,” Phillips said. “You have to get buy-in to stop the killing. You have to get buy-in to stop somebody from wanting to shoot each other, and they have to trust what you say and believe in you and that comes with established relationships.”
Phillips, 45, is part of the inaugural graduating class of what’s known as the Metropolitan Peace Academy, an 18-week training program.
Participants, over 114 hours, learn the latest methods to stop violence by working directly with people involved.
Metropolitan Family Services launched the academy, inviting 20 seasoned violence prevention workers like Phillips in an effort to professionalize and strengthen the fields of street outreach and community violence prevention.
It’s part of Communities Partnering 4 Peace, an initiative that provides a collaborative and comprehensive long-term approach to reducing violence and gang activity among the communities it serves, according to Metropolitan Family Services. The target outcome: reduce shootings and murders, provide intense training to outreach workers and create safe communities.
“They’re not on the streets no more fighting over turf, fighting over money, it’s cyber banging over clout. It’s who can get the most clout, I want a name, I want to be known.”rodney phillips
Phillips works with TARGET Area Development Corporation, a grassroots social justice organization with ties to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and South Africa, as a public safety advocate for the organization’s non-violence campaign. With a decade of experience under his belt he knows how crucial credibility can be among his target audience.
Part of Phillips’ credibility stems from his past life, where he was a part of the streets. He first began working with CeaseFire in 2006 before a drug conviction led to his imprisonment in 2013. Upon his release in 2016, he said he rededicated himself to doing the work. Today, he said he works on shifts from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m. or 4 p.m. -12 a.m.
But he’s always on call because a crisis can arise at any time.
From his experience, social media is overwhelmingly linked to what happens on the street. He said teens feel they must defend their honor when someone trash talks them online.
“You get a lot of retaliatory killings; you see in Chicago it is not as much as a gang problem, you have a lot of interpersonal problems, and you know a lot of the major gangs have turned into cliques now and a lot of things that go on now are fueled by social media,” he said. “They’re not on the streets no more fighting over turf, fighting over money, it’s cyber banging over clout. It’s who can get the most clout, I want a name, I want to be known.”
Addressing potential issues in Englewood is not the same as addressing them in Pilsen, North Lawndale, or other communities, Phillips said.
With that in mind, the Peace Academy invited violence prevention outreach workers from Austin, North Lawndale, West Englewood, Englewood, West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, South Lawndale, Little Village, and Humboldt Park to take part in the inaugural class.
Neighborhoods were selected due to the level violence typically associated with them. The members of the inaugural Peace Academy class represented organizations such as UCAN, Cure Violence, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Precious Blood, New Life Centers, Breakthrough and TARGET Area Development Corporation.
Ric Estrada, president and chief executive officer at Metropolitan Family Services, said they crafted the Peace Academy’s curriculum by consulting with Chicago Police Department officers, as well as looking to other cities like Oakland and Los Angeles for answers.
Troy Harden, associate professor at Northeastern Illinois University, served as the curriculum developer for the Peace Academy.
“The attempt here is to professionalize the field of community outreach because it is among the toughest jobs in the city and yet there is no formalized training using the best available sciences and practices from across the country,” he said.
Metropolitan Family Services is also hiring four outreach workers per community, along with a number of case managers to help assist in the work, Estrada said.
Phillips has faith in the model moving forward. He said everyone working together will be more effective. Access to resources beyond his neighborhood is critical, he said.
“The Peace Academy doesn’t just focus on stopping the violence, it focuses in on a lot of other things, like re-entry,” he said. “So if I tell a guy stop doing this and I don’t have anything to give him then what? The Peace Academy brings those resources along, that’s one of the biggest attributes of us being more effective in the field.”
For more information about the Peace Academy or if you would like to donate visit https://www.metrofamily.org.