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Natural Awakenings NYC & Long Island

Queens-Based ‘PeaceMobile’ Helps Reduce Gun Violence

Last year’s convergence of Covid-19 and the growing social justice movement caused cities across the United States to rethink their approach to crime control and law enforcement, with a focus on preventive programs to break the cycle of violence. But Erica Ford, founder of LIFE (Love Ignites Freedom through Education) Camp, based in South Jamaica, Queens, was way ahead of them. She’s been doing this work for 30 years.

At-risk inner-city youth, ages 13 to 24, can attend LIFE Camp to learn alternatives to violence, bullying, and other forms of antisocial behavior. The goal is to help them stay in school and out of the criminal justice system. Their families can also benefit from the program through educational, employment, and social opportunities. But LIFE Camp doesn’t wait for young people to come to them; they go out into the communities in their bright-orange, 35-foot-long PeaceMobile to spread the message that “peace is a lifestyle.”

Underlying these initiatives is Ford’s philosophy that violence is a public health crisis. By treating it as such, LIFE Camp is helping to transform entire communities. It’s one of more than 60 anti-violence community groups comprising New York City’s Crisis Management System, which helped reduce shootings by 40 percent between 2010 and 2019 in NYC’s most violent neighborhoods.

“This is not a job, this is my life,” Ford has said. “My undying love keeps me committed to my people until my glory day takes me away.”

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