‘Peacebuilders': Tackling Hartford's Violence One Teen at a Time

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The string of violence, at times, feels unending in the capital city. 10 shootings in the past week, the last one with a 15-year-old victim.

Even when things looked their worst though, there has been an organization immersed in the community that has not stopped - trying to reverse this trend for well over two decades.

The Compass Youth Collaborative in Hartford boasts a strong record of turning lives around and keeping the peace.

Every day, the Compass Youth Collaborative’s 12 “peace builders” go out on the streets of Hartford. They have been working to stem the swelling tide of violence that has many in the capital city on edge.

“These peacebuilders are relentless. On a week like this, they're running on barely any sleep," Compass CEO Jacquelyn Nazario said.

COMPASS Youth Collaborative

The Compass Youth Collaborative explains that right now, things have been so volatile in Hartford, the slightest bump in the road can trigger violence and escalate quickly.

“Sometimes it's as simple as a misunderstanding. Someone heard something, something happened on social media. There it escalates to the point where they want violence," Nazario said.

It then becomes the peace builder's job to get to the bottom of things and resolve it before they become the next assault, stabbing or even shooting. They will show up in hospitals after shootings, in schools, in homes and on the streets.

A lot of times, just being there to talk, or helping people with some of life’s simpler problems brings everyone’s stress level down, which is the goal.

“We're offering rides to and from work, you know, to a medical visitor’s door, we actually help them help navigate every phase of life that you can imagine," Crisis Coordinator Larry Johnson said. He oversees the team of peace builders.

Johnson does some of the on-the-street work himself, adding that coming from the community he serves helps.

“We all live in Hartford, you know, being here and being our whole lives. And, you know, now we know the streets. We know the cases, we know the environment. We know the trauma, so it's best to be able to help and heal by just knowing what it's all about," Johnson said.

At one point, the organization even got rival gang members to see eye to eye to stem the tide of violence.

“We had rivaling gang members who were working side side by side...and they were working together now that they've reformed their lives in order to make sure that this doesn't happen again in this generation,” Nazario said.

Both Nazario and Johnson stressed that doing this kind of work takes time. They often work with troubled young people for months, even years.

The goal is three-fold: getting command of your emotions to embrace non-violence, gaining an appreciation for education, with the ultimate goal of helping people become gainfully employed and self-sufficient.

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