Friday, July 24, 2009

More than two dozen young people from Southeast were honored at a dinner Thursday night for keeping a pledge to nonviolence after a recent shooting in their neighborhood.

The residents of Benning Terrace were treated to a dinner at Phillips Seafood restaurant in Southwest by organizers of the District-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE), which brokered a truce between rival neighborhood groups.

The organization also honored two neighborhood youths who recently graduated from high school and received four-year scholarships to attend college.

CNE awarded Rahneeka Saunders and Samuel Knot $1,500 to help pay for books and meet other expenses.

“I hope that other kids graduate from high school and do not let other things distract them from pursuing their goals because if I can do it, anyone can,” said Miss Saunders, who will attend George Mason University in the fall on a basketball scholarship.

Mr. Knot will attend the University of Virginia on a football scholarship.

CNE founder Bob Woodson said the group acts as an intermediary between community groups and schools, providing training and other support services. The advisers are typically young ex-convicts, former gang members or former drug dealers, whose struggles are familiar to those the students face.

When members of a gang known as the “Avenue” carried out a shooting at a Fourth of July celebration in Benning Terrace’s circle, critically injuring a young man and wounding four others, Mr. Woodson intervened. He was worried the shooting would cause tensions to re-emerge between two warring gangs, the “Avenue” and the “Circle.”

CNE helped arbitrate a truce in 1997 between the gangs. Since then, fighting between the factions has ceased, and there have been no crew-related deaths, according to information provided by CNE.

After the shooting, Mr. Woodson facilitated a series of meetings with Benning Terrace Youth Opportunity, an affiliate organization led by a former Benning resident, with approximately 30 young men, ages 17 to 29, to try to prevent retaliation. The meetings culminated with a pledge to peace during a meeting in Mr. Woodson’s office.

“We said to them [that] if they will pledge to be agents of peace in their community that we will help them,” Mr. Woodson said. “We also told them, ‘Either the police can control your community, or you can control it. And the way you can control it is to control your own behavior.’ ”

Mr. Woodson said the young men have kept their promise.

“Now that they’ve kept their word and demonstrated that they can act as a single community, the first reward is going to be this dinner,” Mr. Woodson said.

Although police made several arrests on Saturday after a fight broke out at a Benning Terrace dance, none of the boys who pledged to resist violence were involved.

D.C. police Cmdr. Melvin Scott gave credit to CNE.

“We’re supporting their efforts to reduce violence in that community,” he said. “They have been successful with these efforts in the past, and we’re very optimistic that it will work again.”

Mr. Watson said that it is essential to reward the youth who maintain peace.

“It’s not enough to tell young people what not to do,” he said. “You’ve got to give them opportunities to do something positive to fill the emptiness in their lives.”

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