Tuesday night, on the kick-off night of their Violence Prevention Conference, the California Wellness Foundation awarded their annual California Peace Prize to three remarkable people who practice “results-oriented violence prevention.” (The prize includes a $25,000 cash award for each recipient.)
The first of the three awards went to someone whose selection I cheered particularly loudly—namely Aquil Basheer who is, to quote the Wellness people, “a renowned gang intervention practitioner who uses his street experience to educate youth and professionals who regularly deal with gang violence in Los Angeles.”
More specifically, Aquil is the executive director of Maximum Force Enterprises, which also runs a Professional Community Intervention Training Institute (PCITI), in partnership with the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, was recently adopted as a model for gang intervention by the Los Angeles City Council.
He travels all over the country consulting with other cities and communities about ways that the community members can reclaim their neighborhoods from violence, while at the same time, helping high risk kids to help transform their communities by transforming themselves.
As if that weren’t enough, Aquil is a nationally known expert in threat assessment and crisis prevention, a former Black Panther, a 10th degree blackbelt listed in the Who’s Who of Martial Arts, an inspiring instructor and public speaker and….well, go read the rest of his bio. (He’s also a great dad, a devoted husband, and makes a terrific friend..)
As a side note, it is interesting to know that Aquil’s own dad was the first African American firefighter in the history of Los Angeles.
When he accepted the award, his speech turned evangelistic near the end, as he talked about the work he and many others in the room were doing:
“Individually, we might make inroads, but collectively we cannot be stopped..” he shouted at one point, and the audience in the ballroom of the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel applauded approvingly.
Aquil was loaded with such preacherly one-liners.
“Knowledge is power, but it’s enthusiasm that flips the switch.”
“If you’ve been looking up, it’s time to get up!”
When he finished, the be-suited dinner crowd whooped and hollered, clearly happy to be there to celebrate him.
The remaining Peace awards went to two people who also seemed quite outstanding:
The first was Perla Flores, who is a passionate advocate for woman who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Her work with women from the underserved communities such as migrant women in Morgan Hill and surrounding areas has become a model for such work in many regions around the state.
She was followed by Sammy Nunez, a former gang member who did time in Folsom prison for attempted murder, but who now runs Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, a nationally known community based organization that works to turn around the lives of at-risk youth, particularly young fathers, in the Stockton area.
Violence prevention advocates and experts had flown in from all over the country to honor the three—and will remain for the remainder of the conference to discuss the thorny problems each of the honorees represent.
(More on all that tomorrow.)
NOTE: Light blogging today in that, as noted above, I’m at the Wellness Foundation Conference until Wednesday night.
More soon, as there is much to report.