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Peace keeping program in Roxbury’s H-Block

Bridgit Brown

Does anybody remember Jahmol Norfleet?

He was from the section of Roxbury known as H-Block, a friendly young man who got caught up in the gang life, and was sentenced to a year in prison when a gun fell out of his book bag at school.

He did his time, and came out of jail afresh and renewed. He joined the church, got saved and made a promise not to ever carry a gun again. He even helped set up a gang truce that was launched at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Dorchester.

Four months after that he was shot to death.

Norfleet’s story is about transformation, but for the H-Block community, it’s about living out his legacy through a six point peace plan that Norfleet and his mentor Rev. Miniard Culpepper of the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church created before Norfleet’s death.

Their plan seems simple, but as the city of Boston seeks new measures to quell the flame of recent violent acts involving youth in the city, Rev. Culpepper warns that if it is not youth-centered then it might not work.

“It takes getting to know these kids,” he said while at the kickoff of the Peace Keeper Leadership Program last month at the Monroe Trotter Park in Roxbury. The Peace Keeper Program is based on the six points that Culpepper and Norfleet were working on before his death in 2007. Funded by The Boston Foundation and the American Baptist Church, the Peace Keeper Leadership Program presents a youth-centered approach to peace and preventing youth violence.

Peace keepers protect the park from violence and gang-related activities. They must stay alert and abreast of the Trotter Park community and communicate any suspicious activities to their boss and program director, Joseph Britt, a retired Boston Police detective.

“We put the responsibility to make peace on the youth in this neighborhood, and we guide and encourage them along the way,” said Culpepper. “We also form a trusting relationship with them by breaking bread, coming together, loving each other and just having fun.”

On Mondays and Wednesdays the program brings in adults from different professions to speak to the youth about establishing and launching a career. Life skills workshops are also offered throughout the rest of the week, with a free movie night taking place on Friday evenings.

“The idea is to keep the youth in this area involved in positive activities that will take place at [Trotter] park,” said Culpepper. “We want to make the park a peaceful place and common ground for all.”

There are six adults employed by the Peace Keeper Leadership Program, and their jobs include maintaining peace in the H-Block community by planning activities that aim to engage young people in the park.

The kick-off was organized by the Peace Keeper staff and brought some 200 men, women, children and elected officials to Trotter Park for a day of free food, a basketball tournament, games and prizes.

“We are blessed in Boston to have a number of community-based, nonprofit organizations that provide creative and constructive activities to our young people all year round,” said Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation.

Through the My Summer in the City Initiative, The Boston Foundation has awarded $250,000 in grants to 12 nonprofits to engage low-income, high-risk, youth in positive activities throughout Boston this summer.

“This initiative,” Grogan continued, “and our other summer funding recognizes [the work of these organizations] and strengthens their efforts during the summer months — a time when it’s critical to keep the young people of our city engaged and occupied in positive programs.”

Last year more than 32,000 youth and their families were reached through the My Summer in the City Initiative, which also created 400 jobs for youth in Boston. This year, an additional $460,000 will go to five other summer funding initiatives.

The first part of the plan is withdrawal: a commitment to stay away from an adversary’s area with intent to cause harm or disturb the peace.

The second part is about responsibility. This includes a change in attitude, making apologies, resolving outstanding warrants and completing probation requirements.

The third is to rebuild through an understanding of one’s purpose, gifts and a commitment to change. Fourth are resources, or connecting with church, family and community-based organizations that can help one achieve his or her goals.

Fifth is autonomy or being able to see one’s self moving independently throughout the city, state and country in an effort to develop a path to peace and success. And finally, the sixth is sector meetings or meeting with other youths to confirm that the peace process is working and that each person involved in the truce is making an effort to pray, seek, think and make peace a part of his or her daily life.  

Norfleet’s sister, Teah, has been employed as a peace keeper in the program since its start four years ago.  

“We picked up this program where my brother left off,” she explained. “He was trying to create peace, and we are mainly trying to do the same thing by presenting positive activities to the kids, and reeling them in from the streets or gang activity as much as we can.”

When asked to describe her brother’s personality, Teah laughed and said that Jahmol was very, very talkative, and someone who had to make people laugh no matter what.

“He was incredibly friendly,” she added, “and he also loved children.”