Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Interrupting violence among youth in Battle Creek and offering them alternatives in a safe space is work that R.I.S.E (Re-integration to Support and Empower) Corp. has been doing since the nonprofit began in 2017.
A $125,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will enable R.I.S.E. to expand this initiative and serve more youth, says Damon Brown, founder, and president of R.I.S.E.
“Our investment in R.I.S.E. is a part of our commitment to supporting children’s ability to thrive in equitable communities,” says Marijata Daniel-Echols, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “The American Public Health Association (APHA) has documented the harmful impacts on communities of the prison system, gun violence, disengaged youth, and the disproportionate impacts of community violence for children, youth, and families of color that is rooted in structural racism.
“R.I.S.E.’s violence interruption strategy is grounded in a public health approach and is in alignment with the foundation’s closest held values of race equity, community engagement, and community-based leadership. As we work to make Battle Creek the best place to raise a family, we must deal with how community violence undermines that goal.”
Among R.I.S.E.’s larger goals is to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline through the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy and social-emotional learning, Brown says.
“There have been things going on in our community where we’ve spoken to individuals to stop them from happening like retaliation,” he says. “When things do occur in the community that involves beefs with other individuals, fighting, and shootings, we have a team stepping in front of those kids when we can.”
That team is made up of five community members who are part of the R.I.S.E. staff, including Brown, who have deep and long-standing relationships with residents in the communities they serve.
“They are people who have credibility and good names in our neighborhoods and have been through what these kids are going through,” Brown says. “They have been trained in social-emotional learning to be able to talk with these kids to guide them in the right direction.”
Brown says R.I.S.E. staff are made aware of situations where their expertise is needed almost immediately through their own community networks.
“When something happens, we automatically hear about it,” he says, “whether someone calls us, or it’s on social media, or through family and friends. Then we have the opportunity to step in and help prevent retaliation.”
Another component of their work involves engaging with youth at younger ages so that they are given the tools to deal with situations without resorting to negative behavior or violence. R.I.S.E. partnered this past school year with Battle Creek Public Schools to offer an afterschool program at Verona Elementary with 20 of the school’s high maintenance students.
“A lot of these kids are having behavioral issues, experiencing homelessness, or come from broken homes. There’s a lot of fighting, bullying, and gang activity going on,” Brown says. “We use social-emotional learning and cognitive behavioral therapy when we work with them.”
Brown and his team also are offering the R.I.S.E. Up, Aim High program this summer at Washington Heights United Methodist Church on Thursdays through Saturdays. They have between 60-75 youth in the program which provides mentoring, recreational opportunities, and nutritional meals.
On July 11, the organization will begin offering its Freedom School at the church. Browns says this program deals with literacy and addresses behavioral issues youth have in the classroom.
“Most of the kids we’re dealing with have grades and reading scores that are very low,” Brown says.