DaJuan Hawkins of New York City spent four months in jail for assault and thought he was destined for a life of street crime. Today, he is a high school senior heading for college and writing poetry, says the Christian Science Monitor. What transformed him is the Council for Unity. Founded as a small antigang group in 1975, the council now tries to reach 100,000 people of all cultures in New York City, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, and as far away as Nigeria and the Republic of Moldova. The council works with families and in correctional facilities. It is developing a public-safety curriculum in partnership with police in Riverhead, Long Island.
The group was founded by Bob De Sena, a one-time gang member and former English teacher. He says he turned his life around because someone gave him a second chance. He wants the Council for Unity to do the same for new generations of kids who have had rough lives. The group has a history of getting gang members together to talk, believing that when everybody comes together, there’s nobody left to fight. Ex-gangsters drive the program, taught as a course in elementary, junior, and senior high schools and colleges and offered at community centers and prisons. They take the lead in finding solutions to conflicts without violence while learning communication and leadership skills. “This is a group that saves lives every day,” says Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers. “Ninety-six percent of the students who participate go on to attend college.” The statistics are impressive given the group’s small budget – $1.7 million a year.