Finding common ground
Frontline Dads’ founder, Reuben Jones, has seen a reduction in gun violence through his work in North Philadelphia. He recounts the stories of those who have been affected by gun violence and points toward solutions to gun violence - namely, through community programs, rather than through political policies.
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Dads on the Frontline
Imagine being a young teen growing up without a healthy home environment to protect you. No parents, no family, just violence. Only knowing the streets and the hard choices that come with that life.
It can be nearly impossible to overcome the overwhelming challenges this life brings. It is here where the cycle continues, and generations of children grow up in this violence.
Frontline Dads works to break this cycle. Its founder, Reuben Jones, went from being a victim of it to helping young men overcome it through an intensive program designed to mold leaders.
Frontline Dads offers “a mentoring program for teens with potential coming from challenged backgrounds and who aspire to greatness,” according to its website. Jones says the organization also provides re-entry support for men and women returning home from incarceration. They train young men to think critically, while teaching prevention techniques, such as gun safety and first aid.
Jones started the non-profit organization in 2013 to lead youth away from the dangers that come with inner city life. After seeing the effects that violence has had on his community, he shifted his focus to address the problem at its roots, through guiding the youth. Jones says his work is “to facilitate the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and cultural development of African American men and ‘at-risk’ youth by providing transformative programs that will empower them to assume leadership positions in their families and communities.”
Jones spoke of a young man who joined the program years ago. The teen told his parents that he wanted to get help before it was too late. He felt his friends were the worst influences and tried to get him to act in ways he was uncomfortable with doing. His parents did some research and found Frontline Dads. They felt the organization’s programs would be helpful because after school he would usually hang with his friends who led him down the wrong path. So instead of being with these other influences, he would be in the program doing meaningful things to help his future. The young man agreed with his family to change for the better; he knew his capabilities and that he was smarter than what he was involved in.
This young man’s story illustrates the success of Frontline Dads. Jones, too, grew up in a low-income family and he knows what it’s like to not have the best guidance in certain situations. “We just opened a youth safe house and drop-in center that is open every day after school,” Jones said. He describes this as a place where young people can come and use the computers, play video games, watch TV, and get something to eat. The area is designed to keep the youth from getting involved in gun violence, while guiding them towards healthy lifestyles.
Gun violence affects every aspect of our everyday lives in America. Each year around 45,000 Americans die from gun violence.
“Frontline Dads organizes and runs programs such as Cradle to Grave, '' Jones said. The program teaches teens about the harsh realities of bullet injuries and gunshot wounds. “This program educates young teens about violence,” said Jones. Cradle to Grave shows the lasting effects of gun violence. “It is a 2-hour program where participants explore the real life and death experiences of a Philadelphia teen whose story serves as the backdrop for this unflinching look at gun violence,” said Jones.
“By hearing the stories of their peers and family members first hand, these young men start to envision a life that they like for them and their family,” said Jones. The program shows these youngmen how it is very possible for the situation to happen to them.
Since 2006, more than 13,000 young people have participated in this unique, award-winning program. If at least one of these 13,000 youths are deterred from picking up a firearm, lives are likely to be saved.
Frontline Dads looks to improve the community by addressing social justice issues and criminal justice reform. They seek to empower communities on the margins that are impacted by poverty, crime, unemployment, addiction, and mass incarceration. They also seek to give back to the community through mentoring people on leadership development, economic development, violence prevention, political education, and more.
Since its inception, the program has provided services to more than 5,000 youth and families in some of the most high-risk neighborhoods in the city. The program focuses on rebuilding areas in the city of Philadelphia by reconnecting families and empowering youth to become leaders. Through the program, there are interactive activities for the teens including hands-on experiences that help them develop the tools necessary to make a successful transition into responsible adulthood. Some topics include dressing for success, resume preparation, interview skills, applying for college, parenting, self-esteem, and team building.
Young men will have their thinking and behavior challenged by introducing them to new possibilities and new expectations. These will help them to transcend their current situation. The program has shaped leaders, like the story of the 16-year-old. He is now 23 and working for Frontline Dads alongside Reuben Jones to help those who need it most.
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Frontline Dads offers a number of high-impact programs for young men of color in Philadelphia. They sometimes partner with other organizations to help fight the epidemic of gun violence while remaining politically neutral.
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