March 20, 2019

‘We Take the Gun Out of His Hand, and Place a Job in the Other’

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Meet Ronald Robertson, better known by the name Powerful, the founder of Brownsville Think Tank Matters.  

Powerful is one of a growing number of credible messengers – men and women with life experience of trauma, poverty, and incarceration – who head up community-based organizations in New York City that work with youth to reduce violence and end their involvement with the criminal justice system.    

Evidence continues to grow for the effectiveness of the mentoring and violence interruption programs that the City seeded nearly a decade ago as part of the Young Men’s Initiative. These organizations are now supported by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the City Department of Probation, the City Council, and local funders.  

An essential feature of these programs are credible messengers who develop supportive relationships with young people and guide them on a better path.  Evaluations have shown substantial reductions in criminal convictions for participants; the mayor and local leaders have publicly recognized the role of these community groups in reducing gun violence.

The Institute for Transformative Mentoring (ITM) at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School offers professional and personal development courses that help credible messengers heal and enhance their practical skills so they are better able to help others.  More than 100 credible messengers have completed our programs – including several who are executive directors. Like Powerful at Brownsville Think Tank Matters, leaders from Man Up and GMACC have completed ITM’s “Healed People, Heal People” college course.

Other ITM graduates are developing new projects such as a girls’ initiative, a healing circle for families who have survived gun violence, and activism and arts programs.  A group from ITM’s first cohort, G1, is collaborating on the Incredible Credible Messengers (ICM), which is a non-profit organization developed by credible messengers with lived experience in the justice system to serve returning citizens and their families. ICM’s unique model is a transformative approach that goes beyond reentry and into holistic reintegration.  Benjamin Wilson, ICMs Program director stated, “Our mission is to heal returning citizens from the trauma of incarceration.”

In this short ITM video, filmmaker Vladimir Gurewich takes a tour of Powerful’s Brownsville.


video By: Vladimir GurEwich