Late Advance: Controversial mentoring initiative makes it past the finish line in Sacramento

After months of stalling, city leaders approve contract for Advance Peace

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the December 21, 2017, issue.

After months of delays, the Sacramento City Council signed on the dotted line with an East Bay mentoring program that community members hope will greatly reduce gun violence and save young lives.

The primary hiccup in entering into an agreement with the program Advance Peace was its insistence on a minimum four-year contract to do the entrenched work that is credited with reducing Richmond homicides and firearm assaults by 50 percent. The city has agreed to that time table and is putting up $1.5 million in matching funds, adding up to a $3 million investment in youth who are seen as at risk of being the victims or perpetrators of gun violence.

Local mentoring programs will be part of that equation.

“Split-second decisions can change [young] lives,” said North Sacramento peer counselor Melvin Brookins. “Somewhere, mentors have to step in and stand in the gap.”

Brookins was alluding to a Grant High School athlete who was given a second chance after getting caught up in crime. That teenager is now on his way to a college career at Alabama State University, Brookins says.

Brookins’ mentoring program, Brother to Brother, has been working to reduce gun-related tragedies in Del Paso Heights for years. Now that Sacramento leaders have come to terms with Advance Peace, Brother to Brother may be getting more help in that mission.

For city leaders, a breaking point came in August when one person was killed and four were wounded in a gang-related shooting in Meadowview Park. Elected officials quickly announced a handshake deal with Advance Peace, but it took another four months for the details to be worked out, as the Sacramento Bee first reported.

The approach taken by Advance Peace isn’t without controversy.

Over the four-year life of the program, representatives will engage 50 young men deemed most likely to be involved in gun crimes and try to steer them onto a different path as fellows. The fellows will be required to make daily check-ins and receive life coaching, social services, job training and other mentoring. After six months in the program, fellows will also receive a monthly stipend of up to $1,000 to subsidize education, work and family commitments.

Critics have dismissed the stipends, saying people should not be rewarded for not committing crimes.

Supporters of the program point to its effectiveness elsewhere.

Michael Lynch, co-founder of Improve Your Tomorrow, a peer-mentoring nonprofit in South Sacramento’s Valley High School, said that local connections will be key. “If it works in Richmond, why can’t it work here?” Lynch added. “One of the best parts is they use folks connected to the streets to meet those needs. It’s a huge amount of respect to talk with someone about changing their lives. … It’s a holistic approach from the community perspective.”