Gail Hilton and James Hilton pose with the Man Up! founder and CEO Andre T. Mitchell and Councilman Charles Barron and Assembly member Inez Barron. Their son, 23-year-old James Hilton, was shot and killed a year ago. Gail is holding her late son's daughter, Jashaii Hilton, who proudly told the AmNews that she is 2 years old. (25612)
Credit: Nosayaba Odesanya

An elated crowd released 363 green, orange and white balloons into the sky above East New York’s Van Siclen Avenue and Linden Boulevard on Sunday evening.

They were excited because each balloon symbolized a day with no shootings or killings in what had become a notorious part of town.

As of last Sunday afternoon, there were 363 days of no shootings and no killings.

Someone needs to go get a few more balloons. And that is a great thing.

The dedicated violence interrupters and peacemakers of the much-praised community organization Man Up Inc. have worked to make peaceful communication an alternative to violent interaction. Their own safety notwithstanding, the grassroots workers show up at the sites of altercations and squash the conflicts. It is an Operation Ceasefire (Chicago) model, which has proven successful for several years and has had supporters nationwide asking why it has not been adopted and funded by city, state and federal governments nationwide.

Man Up Inc. founder and CEO Andre Mitchell praised his community at the celebration on Sunday. “We should celebrate this achievement,” he said. “The community has worked together so that we are able to release these 363 balloons into the air to symbolize 363 days without any shootings or killings. That is down to the people in the community making it happen.”

“Andre Mitchell and the young men and women of Man Up, need to be commended for the work they have done. Selflessly, these people—some with families and full-time jobs of their own—have come out at night to walk their streets and make sure that no beef turns violent. They have kept a community safe just by their presence and skills in conflict resolution,” said an impressed Councilman Charles Barron. “Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Barack Obama need to study their model and give them the funds and resources they need to expand the program. This grassroots initiative is proven. It works. Now give them what they need to spread the model nationwide.”

Mitchell, who is also executive director of Cease Fire East New York, is also clear about the task before him and his loyal team. “Gun violence is a disease—a public health issue, not a public safety issue.” For years, Man Up has trained groups of young men and women throughout the sometimes-hectic 75th Precinct on how to smooth out possibly deadly situations.

Despite the impressive news, Bloomberg and the NYPD did not respond to an Amsterdam News request for comment.

Samantha Levine, deputy press secretary for Bloomberg, told the AmNews that ManUp! receives paid funds from the Young Men’s Initiative, a multi-agency public/private partnership committed to finding new ways to tackle the crisis affecting young Black and Latino men in New York City.

She said, “The mayor’s Young Men’s Initiative was designed to improve outcomes for young Black and Latino men, and this program is doing just that by decreasing violence and helping young men reach their full potential. The Initiative will increase young men’s access to health care, education and jobs while decreasing their involvement in the justice system and improving the odds for young Black and Latino men in New York City.”

Mitchell acknowledges that Man Up mediation and resolution tactics are what have tempered the violence in the targeted catchment area. Bringing a positive attitude to an environment of high unemployment and complex housing and education issues has created a different atmosphere.

The local men and women who patrol the neighborhood greet residents and each other with “Hotep,” the African word for peace. The beauty is to hear the young people say it too, automatically, without prompting.

It speaks to the positive and thorough influence Man Up has had and continues to have on the people it comes in contact with; and if you count the summer camps and after-school programs, that is a lot of people. Servicing around 20,000 people, their anti-gun violence and conflict resolution initiatives go alongside their housing and employment programs.

Man Up has been historically financed by Barron and some other City Council, state and federal funds.

Before he counted down the release of the balloons into the beautiful blue sky on Sunday, Mitchell addressed the proud East New Yorkers and praised their commitment to keeping their neighborhood free of violence.

“Our violence interrupters have done an amazing job working with the community to keep us safe and diffusing potentially violent situations.” Mitchell told the AmNews. ”We appreciate the work they have done and how our residents have worked together in order to make this celebration possible.”