From Myanmar to Minneapolis, the pandemic turned all sorts of plans around. Davion Jones, a youth leader from North Minneapolis, was looking for a job when the pandemic began. And very quickly the crisis became an opportunity.
Davion had a cousin who was working with EMERGE, a North Minneapolis-based community development organization that houses a work readiness program for young men impacted by gang and clique violence. With no job in sight, Davion started going to the neighborhood programming and found himself working with guys he would see around the neighborhood. And then he kept going back.
With both the pandemic and uprisings in the Twin Cities raging, the young men (or the EMERGE Brothers, as they call themselves) began responding to more needs in their community. They started running clothing drives, and delivering food to neighbors and families.
Davion explains the approach the young men took, “With EMERGE. We genuinely care. We took it upon ourselves to get the food that people actually like, to fill the bag up with that kind of food. It’s a different type of connection. We lived in the community and we still live in the community.”
As a supporter of NP, you know that community safety lays the groundwork for communities to thrive. The Brothers saw a natural connection between the work they were doing to feed their community and the ability to keep their community safe.
Enter Nonviolent Peaceforce
Nonviolent Peaceforce works with communities around the world to keep themselves safe from violent conflict. NP does not prescribe solutions, but rather asks communities what safety looks like, and what communities need to protect themselves. From there, NP works to uplift pre-existing skills and security practices, surfacing ancestral knowledge and wisdom that have helped communities survive for millennia.
But when EMERGE first started doing trainings with Nonviolent Peaceforce, Davion wasn’t so sure. “I was trying to understand what we were doing. Being nonviolent seemed difficult given the times that we live in and the circles we are in. I understand we’re nonviolent, but at the same time, we are talking about protecting people that are rioting and shooting—that's violent.”
But Davion’s doubts didn’t last for long.
When the training started being more hands on and group-oriented and the EMERGE Brothers worked through situations relevant to their lives, it started making more sense.
Manu Lewis, NP Program Specialist, was able to serve the critical role of translating NP’s words and methodologies. “They’re not really foreign concepts,” he shared. “They’re just termed in a foreign language.” And Manu saw the young men gaining language to some of the things they were already doing: “It gave them a structure in which to operate, and the unarmed civilian protection trainings supported the work they already wanted to do in the community.”
Davion recalls that the trainings “made us slow down with things and made us see things different. The nonviolence and de-escalation trainings make you look at things differently and they help you become a different you.”
And Davion started to see changes almost immediately. He saw his peers in situations and recognized that their reactions were not the ones he would have anticipated. And he started to see changes within himself. He started catching himself and using what he had learned in trainings outside, in his home, and with his family.
“When I’m having a verbal altercation with someone, I used to have a temper. I used to go off on the first thing. I didn’t take the time to evaluate the situation. A lot of things would bother me that probably would have nothing to do with the situation at hand but I would take it out on the situation.
The training taught me how to move and avoid certain things. They taught me how to de-escalate situations and avoid them reaching a certain level.
People were telling me the training was working, that I was doing what I was supposed to do. It gave me a spark to leave the other side alone and focus on bettering myself.”
Putting The Trainings into Practice
Now, Davion says his community holds him to a higher standard because of the skills he exercised in the trainings.
And together with the EMERGE Brothers, Davion has had lots of opportunities to put his skills into action. He has provided protection during various events in the community—especially focused on youth protection. One of the most impactful events where he provided protection was a vigil for a little girl who was shot and killed last spring. Providing protection at a time when the community was grieving and feeling unsafe was a powerful way to show support.
“We went through the training and now we’re downtown protecting the people. We came as one and we left as one with unity and no violence.
The unity was impactful. The unity that we showed. People understood why we were there. We knew how to talk to people when we were approached about who we were and why we were there.”
What stood out to Manu is the confidence the young men exuded, not just in the training, but also in proceeding actions in the community. Manu recalls, “It was how they were applying the techniques, how they were positioning themselves, how they were embodying the training... They already had a skillset just by being in their lives and communities. But how they visualized a potential threat— how they engaged those situations was entirely different.
They were able to engage them in a way that highlighted why they were doing what they’re doing. They embodied the training immediately. They put it right into practice. And now they look forward to making that impact and doing the work in their communities.”
An Ongoing Partnership
There is more in the works for NP’s partnership with EMERGE. We are in the process of setting up ongoing mentorship and training that meets emerging community needs.
Manu reflects that the Brothers are “not just a great addition to NP’s work, but it has propelled them to be more confident in their communities. They really look forward to giving back to the community... The trainings brought skills to the surface and helped them have confidence that they could be change agents in their communities.”
It is Manu’s hope that we can continue to create opportunities for the Brothers to stay engaged with NP, particularly as they navigate a world that is not so open to unarmed options and nonviolent methods, “so that they won’t be hardened to the fact that they have these skillsets, they just can’t find a place to use them.”
And for Davion, NP’s work is one part or a larger journey with EMERGE. “EMERGE is basically the name,” Davion explains. “It helps you become a better person. It puts you around people who generally care about you. Emerge helped me turn things around and see things different. I started enjoying the things I was doing.”
And as for the partnership, “It really works” Davion says. “It’s really helpful and I appreciate them. EMERGE is just trying to emerge and be better for our people.”