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Gun violence in Fresno could be reduced with this fellowship. But will city support it?

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Gun violence in Fresno could be reduced with the help of an established fellowship program that’s worked in other cities, West Fresno community members and leaders believe.

On Tuesday, they gathered to garner support for Peacemaker Fellowship — a program that provides highly personalized fellowships to young adults who are most likely to be the perpetrators of gun violence.

The fellowship started in Richmond, California, and has worked well in Sacramento, Oakland and Stockton, supporters said.

With enough backing from the community and city leaders, the fellowship could work in Fresno, according to DeVone Boggan, founder and CEO of Advance Peace.

Faith in the Valley invited Boggan to speak about the program at the West Fresno Family Resource Center, where many community members were receptive.

The program has been shown to reduce gun assaults and homicides by 50 percent over a five-year period, Boggan said, in turn reducing government costs associated with gun violence.

Boggan said a small number of people are responsible for a large percentage of gun violence in most cities. When he began the program in Richmond, three cohorts of people participated, mostly men between 16 and 27.

Boggan said he was impressed with the participation rate. He said it shows that “most of the young men want a real way out” of that lifestyle.

The fellowship follows each cohort through a minimum of 18 months of non-mandated personalized mentoring from highly trained formerly incarcerated leaders.

Boggan said the “secret sauce” to the program is daily engagement with the fellows. Mentors go out to meet with them every single day. “We meet them where they are, we meet them as they are,” Boggan said.

A lot of the fellows have trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder that is addressed through the fellowship, Boggan said. It offers an opportunity to stabilize their lives and move them toward educational, professional and personal goals.

Fellows travel around the county and the world to open their minds “to life beyond what they’ve known and to develop camaraderie among a group of young men who may have been enemies on their home turf,” according to Advance Peace.

Past fellows have visited universities and met government leaders to tell their stories. They’ve fed the homeless and worked with the elderly.

There are several hurdles Boggan has experienced in cities that have tried to implement the Peacemaker Fellowship. Because fellows can earn a stipend for doing well in the program, he said there is the notion that criminals are being paid to put their guns away.

“Quite frankly, we never ask them to stop shooting,” Boggan said. “People in war zones have firearms for a reason.”

But Boggan said with the mentorship that the fellows receive, the end result is that they do put the guns down.

Several criteria have to be met for program implementation, including the buy-in of at least two city leaders, such as a city manager, mayor, police chief or a district attorney.

This sometimes doesn’t happen.

Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias, who attended the presentation, encouraged the community to attend the April 4 city council meeting. He said Mayor Lee Brand will be presenting a proposal on the replacement of Police Chief Jerry Dyer, and community input is sought.

Advance Peace also requires a five-year commitment and $300,000 per year in funding.

Boggan said the cost of a homicide in Sacramento costs $1 million per incident, and it costs $271,318 to incarcerate a juvenile in the state. The cost of one participant in the fellowship is $30,000, and could prevent lethal shootings.

Margaret Jackson lives in West Fresno and said the presentation was effective, but she was disappointed that more members of the community weren’t there.

She believes the city will adopt the program.

“Advance Peace has worked in other cities,” she said. “Why would we not? We can’t keep paying with our children’s blood.”

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPanoo
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