Issue 11 | Summer 2019
Dear Roca friends,
The summer is a tricky time for us at Roca. We get to be outside more, spend more time with friends and family, and enjoy the weather – but violence also peaks. This has been true this year in Boston, and has definitely been true in Baltimore, which had one of the deadliest months in years, with 38 victims in the streets.
We refuse to accept this status quo. We know there is a different way: we have to be more focused on the young people at the heart of this violence. We have to provide them with tools that can help them turn their lives around. And we have to work together relentlessly, until we prove that change is possible.
In the past few weeks we’ve had the pleasure of hosting events both in Boston and Baltimore for Thomas Abt’s new book Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence — and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets. It is a special book not only because it brings the most up-to-date, cutting edge research on urban violence to the front – but also because it makes it in an accessible and practical way.
In the coming months we will be working with many of our partners to learn how some of Abt’s findings and recommendations can turn into a work plan for the cities we serve. We believe there’s a lot to learn from this approach not only in Baltimore and Boston, but also in Springfield, Chelsea, Lynn, Holyoke, and many other cities around the country. As Abt so aptly states, urban violence is “a gushing wound that demands immediate attention in order to preserve life and limb,” and we all need to do our part in stopping this bleeding.
Thank you for your continued partnership and support! We hope you partner with us to prove that summer doesn’t have to be a synonym for violence and that we all get to enjoy all the fun the warm months have to offer!
Founder & CEO, Roca
ROCA’S 2019 ANNUAL BREAKFAST
Thank you to all of you who joined us on our last Annual Breakfast! What a great morning. Hundreds packed the room for a morning of inspiring stories, a celebration of accomplishments, and look to the future for the work yet to come. Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins got the program rolling with a resounding “Good Morning!” serving again as the event emcee.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross was present to share his own personal story and connection with the work Roca does.
“What I like about Roca starts with another ‘R’… Relentless. Relentless, Relentless, Relentless,” Commissioner Gross said. “Do not give up.”
We honored three Vichey Phoung Peace Award winners this year: Joseph Canzano, Christopher Mullins, and Keishla Aponte.
Emily Fish, assistant director of Roca Lynn, presented the awards for Joey and Chris. Both young men spoke about their experiences with the program, their growth, and having met through Roca, how they are both godfathers to each other’s children. Paola Rojas, coordinator of the Roca Chelsea Young Mothers Program, presents the award for Keishla.
A big congratulations to our young people for all of their hard work!
Michael Jacobson, Director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and former President of the Vera Institute, spoke to the research side of the work, noting that Roca’s model is focused on working the highest-risk youth who are not ready, willing or able.
“This is our job. Help us to be brave,” said Molly, in closing. “Most of all, help us to be hopeful. All of our children and our young people need us. They matter.”
There were smiles and hugs, moments of reflection, and a nod to work ahead. Watch all the highlights of the morning here.
THIS YEAR’S VICHEY PHOUNG PEACE AWARD WINNERS ARE…
There were three Vichey Phoung Peace Award winners honored at this year’s Annual Breakfast: Joseph Canzano, Christopher Mullins, and Keishla Aponte, recognized for their hard work and determination to achieve substantial and positive change in their lives.
The winners of this award exemplify the transformation that we seek to bring about in all of the young people we serve.
“I get to be a dad, something I never had growing up,” said Joey, who has been working at a sheet metal factory for almost a year and is the proud father of a 2-month-old girl. “I’ve been out of jail for 3 and a half years. Change, it can really happen.”
“You always have a choice, but you are the only person who can make things better for yourself,” said Chris, who works full time as a maintenance technician and lives with his girlfriend and 2-month-old son. Joey and Chris also both shared that, having met through the program, they are both godfathers to each other’s children.
The three award recipients spoke to the challenges they faced before and during the program. Substance abuse, gang involvement, incarceration, unemployment; all road blocks that kept them from moving forward with their lives. But it was the relentless outreach and support from their youth workers that kept them striving for better, even in times of relapse.
“Roca helped me see a part of myself that I never could. I have become a strong women,” said Keishla. Today she lives at a place of her own, has steady employment and a car, and her child is in school. She has found her independence and is looking to start college classes soon.
All young people are capable of change, of growth, and of finding and practicing peace. We congratulate Joey, Chris, and Keishla for this great achievement and wish to thank all of our outstanding community leaders for their invaluable support which makes our work possible.
A DISCUSSION WITH THOMAS ABT ON HIS BOOK BLEEDING OUT
Earlier this month, Thomas Abt, author of BLEEDING OUT: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence—and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets was joined by Roca, Dr. Anthony Braga, Director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, Ed Dolan, Massachusetts Probation Services Commissioner, and Tracy Litthcut, co-director of the Boston Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, for a discussion on crime and violence.
“We can do things to save lives right now alongside those broader issues,” Abt, said, speaking to the larger issues of poverty, gun safety, inequality, and education. “It’s about relentless outreach. The people you’re reaching out to are going to tell you ‘no’ before they tell you ‘yes.’”
In his book, Abt shows that the highest levels of violent crime are perpetrated by a small percentage of people, many of whom have been violently victimized themselves. In order to reduce this level of crime, our focus must be on the highest risk individuals and that we have to meet the individuals within that group with a both empathy and resolve.
Abt proposes a number of strategies to address urban violence. Beginning with tackling violence head-on. As he notes in his writing, it is an issue we can and must solve in order to help our nation’s most disadvantaged populations.
Urgent yet hopeful, Abt’s book outlines practical solutions to this crisis facing many of our youth, as well as a call to action.
AN UPDATE ON OUR YOUNG MOMS
It’s awesome to see our young moms as they make so much progress. At Roca, we work with high-risk young mothers and their babies to break out of the cycles of poverty and violence. Through our relentless outreach approach, tailored programming, and collaboration with community partners, Roca helps these young moms transform their lives, find employment, and create better futures for their children.
We got an update on a few of our young moms who participated in the Certified Occupancy Specialist (COS) training with our partner Beacon Communities. Three young mothers, who thoroughly enjoyed learning and working at the facility, finished their paid, three-month internship at Beacon Communities this Friday and, we received some great news!
Everyone at Beacon Communities was so impressed with our young moms that they have decided to offer them full-time, salaried jobs with benefits once their internships end. This will be a newly created position call COS-in-training, allowing them even more time to learn as they become fully Certified Occupancy Specialists!
We’re so proud of our young mothers and all of their hard work towards achieving a better, brighter future for their children and themselves. Congratulations to our young moms!
NEW FACES AND FRESH PERSPECTIVES: ROCA’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Roca recently welcomed four new members to the Board of Directors: Jay Ash, Chief Michael Davis, Adrian Dingle, and Thaddeus Miles.
Jay Ash is the President and CEO of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership with a focus is on policies and initiatives that make the Massachusetts economy stronger and more competitive. Prior to this, Ash served as the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Housing and Economic Development in Governor Charlie Baker’s first cabinet, responsible for directing and executing Governor Baker’s agenda on housing and community development, job creation, business development, consumer affairs, and business regulation. He previously served for 14 years as the City Manager in his native Chelsea, where he grew the city’s housing stock by over 10 percent, expanded its commercial base with two dozen major projects, led all Gateway Cities with a 15 percent increase in new employment, developed 10 new parks, secured five credit rating increases, and won two All-American City designations. Not less important, Jay has known Roca for years and we always learn from him so much!
Chief Michael Davis is the Associate Vice President of Public Safety for Northeastern University and oversees the Northeastern University Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and the International Safety Office. Prior to this, he served as the Chief of Police for the City of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota’s 6th largest and second most diverse municipality, leading the city to the lowest levels of crime in 22 years. Davis is the recipient of the 2012 Gary P. Hayes Award from the Police Executive Research Forum and was one of a few select police chiefs throughout the nation to be invited as a member of the 2011-2014 Harvard Executive Session on Policing and Public Safety. He is also the founder of MBD Innovations, a police leadership consulting consortium. It’s a true honor and pleasure to welcome Chief Davis to our board!
Thaddeus Miles is the Director of Community Services for MassHousing, concentrating on three impact areas: Housing Stability, Knowledge, and Capacity Building, and Strengthen Families and Communities for several hundred Housing developments across Massachusetts. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force, co-chair of My Brother’s Keeper Boston, Chair of Becoming a Man, Boston, and was recently named one of Boston’s Most Influential People of Color. Miles had founded many local, national and international initiatives including HoodFit, a cross-collaborative movement to amplify the positive attributes in ones’ hood, “Think Big Dream Big,” a youth-driven initiative to jumpstart young people on the journey to a positive future and is the co-founder of Alray Scholarship Fund and Technology Consortium. We have learned so much from Thaddeus’ leadership over the years and we look forward to learn from him as our board member!
Adrian Dingle is a Roca supporter, originally from Holly Hill, South Carolina. Dingle attended Clemson University before spending six seasons as a member of the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League. While living in San Diego, Adrian worked as a youth football coach and volunteered for various community organizations focusing on making a positive impact on the lives of the cities at risk youth. He relocated to the Boston area in 2017 and has since been involved in Roca through volunteerism and community outreach. So excited to have Adrian join us!
For a full list of Roca board members, check out our website.
THE MESSAGE IN THE DATA: CHANGE IS POSSIBLE
We are lucky to have experts to learn from. At our Annual Breakfast, Michael Jacobson, Director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and former President of the Vera Institute, spoke to the current state of criminal justice reform in the nation. And while crime and incarceration rates have dropped across the country, in some areas more significantly than others, there is still much work to be done.
“We are still by far the world leader in incarceration,” Jacobson noted, following with the statistic that 700 per 100,000 people are in jail or prison in the United States. “It’s a lot better than it used to be, but it’s still insanely high. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do.”
Jacobson explained further that much of the violence, and lethal violence, in the U.S. is in concentrated areas of poverty and is committed by young adults to other young adults.
“Exactly at that space, the young adults who hurt other young adults, both who are perpetrators and victims of crime, that’s the space that Roca finds itself in,” Jacobson said, pointing out that these are the young adults who are not ready, willing and able to participate. “They are in the deepest of the deep end of what happens in this field. Their model is to work with folks who desperately don’t want to work with them.”
In 2018 alone, Roca served 942 very high-risk young men and retained 78 percent of them throughout the year. Of those who completed the two-year, intensive component of the model, 88 percent had no new arrests and 92 percent had no new incarcerations. Additionally, of those who completed the first two years, 76 percent had jobs with 66 percent of them holding jobs for six months or longer. We are so proud to be able to help these young people change their lives for the better. And the data tells us: this change is possible.
“There is no place that Roca does. Their model of working with the highest-risk folks, the folks with most risk to both harm and be harmed is pretty extraordinary,” said Jacobson.