Anti-violence program in Prince George’s Co. garners donations from business leaders

Dozens of people packed into a Prince George’s County government building to hear an impassioned message on preventing crime and youth violence from community leaders.

The audience at the announcement of YMI, an anti-violence and mentoring program, is introduced in Prince Georges County. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

Dozens of people packed into a Prince George’s County, Maryland, government building on Presidents’ Day to hear an impassioned message on preventing crime and youth violence from community leaders.

At the heart of the message: sitting on the sidelines won’t change a thing.

“I will stake every ounce of energy in my body to help each and everyone of you to stop the violence in our community,” Prince George’s County Council member Calvin Hawkins said.

The goal is to help young people “choose a path of peace and positivity,” according to the release announcing Monday’s event.

The strategy involves linking men who have been behind bars but are now working to steer others clear of a life of crime and violence with young people in Prince George’s County.

The group YMI, or Young Mindz Initiative, is led by Dominic Henry, who spent 35 years in prison and is dedicated to violence prevention. Henry leads the program that helps create mentorships involving young leaders who have never been involved in crime, with men leaving prison and working their way back to a new, productive life.

The program consists of four stages, including one during which teams from YMI spend time in communities Henry called “hot spots.”

Henry said during Monday’s news conference, “We’re going to all the hot spots. And we’re going to recruit the street stars and the influencers, and we’re going to train them,” to work toward skill building that enables men to avoid returning to crime or violence.

“You have a lot of 8- to 24-year-olds who are leaders,” Henry said.

Hawkins said the program described in Monday’s event is not meant to be singled out as the only solution to fighting violence in communities.

“What you heard was that we want to work with the other organizations out there,” and “break the cycle” of crime and violence, particularly among young people, he said.

Hawkins was pleased to see the audience at the Wayne Curry Administration Building was dotted with teenagers and young boys.

“We are having young people take the lead. We’re listening to the young people talk about what’s going on in the community,” he said. “Instead of an old guy like me.”

Among those who spoke was Emmanuel Bailey, CEO of a subsidiary of Intralot, an international firm that specializes in gaming, betting and lottery operations. Bailey addressed the youngest attendees, telling them, “it’s very easy to do the wrong thing, it’s very difficult to do the right thing.”

Bailey said he was not any different from many of the young people who are the subject of outreach.

“I lived in Barry Farm. My family has been on public assistance,” he told the crowd.

Bailey said that the business community gathered at the event “is in the fight,” and willing to invest in the group to reach its goals.

“I will start with a $25,000 check, unrestricted, and I will match dollar-for-dollar — up to $50,000 for any business in the area that’s going to support this program,” he said to vigorous applause.

Another donation was announced by Spencer Crump with the Wright Global Group.

Crump told the crowd, “We’re here to donate $2.5 million for transitional housing for the youth in Prince George’s County and all through Maryland,” he said to cheers from the audience.

Also speaking: Lance London, founder of the Carolina Kitchen restaurant chain. London told the young people that they had a lot to gain from listening to mentors who might tell them the road they are walking is paved with glass.

“Put on some boots, if you don’t listen, your feet going to get cut,” he said.

London explained the guidance comes from the hope for better things for young people.

“I want you to be bigger than me, and better than me,” he said.

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