The first Academy cohort includes 25 employees from across the city who have at least six months of field experience and are members of violence intervention organizations contracted with the DC government. Street outreach and violence intervention workers are typically hired because they have deep roots in the communities in which they work.
The curriculum, largely developed by local community leaders, is designed to improve negotiation and conflict resolution skills, officials said. It also provides psychiatric services for those doing the course to help them cope with the trauma they may experience from their work, which often involves personal risk.
“This is the first time I’ve really felt like we have something for ourselves,” Peace for DC executive director Lashonia Thompson-El said at the academy’s opening Tuesday in southeast Washington. “This program allows us to bring together the voices of those who matter most about gun violence.”
The academy is privately funded by Peace for DC, a nonprofit founded by local restaurant owner Roger Marmet after his 22-year-old son Tom was killed a stray bullet in 2018. The nonprofit has raised half a million dollars to support the academy, Marmet said, with each cohort of 25 costing about $250,000.
Funding goes to teachers, life coaches, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a $150 per week payment to each participant to help with expenses like child care and parking while they are enrolled in the course. Marmet said he hopes the academy will have trained about 150 people by the end of 2023.
The launch comes at a critical moment in Washington. Homicides are up 7 percent from the same time last year and summer is fast approaching, a season when crime has traditionally spiked. DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is under mounting pressure to reverse the worrying rise in violence as contentious primary elections approach in weeks and many voters cite public safety as their top concern. Critics have said Bowser lacks a unique crime-fighting plan, and officials now concede that her Building Blocks signature initiative was little more than a theory.
The Gun Violence Reduction Plan recommends strategies to make DC safer
A recent report commissioned by an independent DC agency offered a comprehensive gun violence reduction plan for DC and recommended that the city is increasing the number of violence intervention workers and establishing an academy to train them. Top district officials have not committed to implementing the plan but said it will play a role in their own work to develop a holistic strategy.
Linda Harllee Harper, DC director of gun violence prevention, said the DC Peace Academy is an example of the power of collaboration between private organizations and the government, but added that the city is still developing a plan to prevent gun violence gun violence work. As part of that effort, the DC government has partnered with the University of the District of Columbia to launch its own four-week hybrid program to train violent disruptor cohorts — which it described as a “complement” to the Peace Academy.
Nneka Grimes, a 32-year-old social worker in Ward 5 of the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens, sat in a room on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in southeast Washington, where she and 24 others were given laptops for their first academy training. Grimes said she received training through her organization, which contracts with the attorney general’s office, but is keen to learn more about how to teach people in her community about disruption to violence.
“I feel like I got my bachelor’s degree and this is my master’s class,” she said. “This is the next level.”