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Supporting Children & Families

Brooklyn Safe Streets and Community Go to the WhiteHouse

A man, woman and child stand together, holding t-shirts for Brooklyn Safe Streets
(From left to right) Niyel Stuckey, Donna Hutchinson, and Corey Winfield took time out for a photograph before boarding the bus to travel with Brooklyn Safe Streets and community residents to the White House. (Photo by Ellison Cheshire).

By Mark Cheshire

Around 8 a.m. the day before Easter, people began to gather expectantly at the heart of the Brooklyn Homes community in South Baltimore. The chilly spring breeze prompted some to seek out patches of sunshine to stay warm while waiting to board a chartered bus bound for the White House.

As the crowd grew, the event’s organizer pinged around like a pinball, moving from person to person to talk and take care of various last-minute arrangements. Wearing a fluorescent orange jacket, standing well over six feet tall, and exuding irrepressible warmth, Corey Winfield could not be missed. He seemed to be everywhere at once, always with a smile and familiar words for everyone. As the director for Safe Streets Brooklyn, Winfield would have it no other way for himself and for his entire team of community violence interrupters.

“We’re determined to do everything we can to show that we care and that we will always be there for the people of our community,” Winfield said. “Driving down gun violence requires building up trusting relationships.”

A public health initiative of Baltimore City and a key part of Mayor Brandon M. Scott’s Comprehensive Violence Prevention, Safe Streets is a community violence intervention program designed to reduce shootings in areas with high levels of gun violence. Four program sites are administered by Catholic Charities, including Safe Streets Brooklyn. Staffers like Winfield are recruited for their ability to forge relationships with those at high risk of violence, to mediate disputes, and to connect people with an array of services.

The efforts of Corey and his colleagues are appreciated by those in the area.

“Safe Streets does a lot for the community, and I feel comfortable around those guys,” said Stanley Blake, a Brooklyn resident who joined the trip to Washington along with his wife, Tanya. “They stand ten-toes down with the community.”

Staffers are especially supportive of young people, Blake continued. For example, they make time to play football with kids and encourage them to do the right things.

Tanya Blake agreed. “They have put a lot back into the community. Not only that. They are trying to gather up the youth to find other things for them to do in the neighborhood. And they try to make sure we’re safe.”

Like several others who made their way to the White House, the Blakes have experienced violence. During the July 2, 2023, mass shooting in the community that left 28 injured and two dead, bullets struck their home. At the time of the incident, their one-year-old grandson was asleep inside.

The Blakes elected to join the Safe Streets trip to the White House as a show of unity. “I feel it’s only right to stand up for my community,” Tanya Blake said.

Origins of the White House Visit

Following the July 2 shooting, Corey spoke to one of his many connections, Greg Jackson, who serves as deputy director of President Biden’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Jackson wanted to speak to and learn from those touched by the tragic incident, so Corey organized a Zoom call. To reward those who contributed their time and perspective to this conversation, Corey and 40 Brooklyn-area residents and supporters were invited to visit the White House and provided six tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Natalie Grant expressed gratitude not only for the opportunity to visit the White House along with her son, who continues to recover from a gunshot wound suffered during the July 2 shooting, but also for all the support Safe Streets has provided to her in recent months.

“They were there for me. They called to check up on me, stuff that I needed,” Grant said. “They’re always there for me.”

Another guest, Donna Hutchinson, was enthusiastic about the chance to see the White House for the first time along with her granddaughter, Niyel Stuckey. “She’s been writing down information about all the presidents in preparation for the trip,” Hutchinson said of Niyel.

Having lost her son – Niyel’s father – to gun violence in 2018, Hutchinson participated in the conference call with the President’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention as well as the trip to Washington.

After praising Corey’s involvement in the community, Hutchinson stated plainly that the area continues to face significant challenges. “It’s wilder out here than back in our days,” she said. Safe Streets “is doing the best they can” to make the streets more secure, she added.

When asked for his assessment of Safe Streets’ efforts in Brooklyn, John Watts, the senior pastor of Kingdom Life Church Apostolic in Brooklyn Home, simply shook his head in near disbelief and appreciation. Reeling off a list of projects they’ve taken on in recent years, Watts stated, “Safe Streets does a lot of work.”

Highlights of the Trip

After completing the tour of the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Winfield was nearly speechless. “It was wonderful. Words cannot describe,” he said.

One highlight of the visit, he said, was the opportunity to stand in the East Room of the White House where President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. looking on. Another was the chance to see and add to a powerful list hanging in the Eisenhower Building. To promote the memory and legacy of those lost to violence, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention maintains a banner headlined by the resolution to “say their names.”

Corey is optimistic that benefits beyond the visit will result, at least in part, from the group’s contributions to the Office of Gun Violence Prevention including securing additional resources for trauma-informed counseling in public schools across the country.

Interested in learning more? For additional information about Safe Streets, visit the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE) here and Catholic Charities’ Safe Streets work here. Check out an external evaluation of the program from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Gun Violence Solutions here. For more about President Biden’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention, click here.