By Christopher Young,
When I heard Ashley Bell, on WMPR-90.1 last week talking about Guns for Grants, it really caught my ear. After getting hold of her, she agreed to meet at The Mississippi Link office for an interview so that our readers could learn more about this initiative, along with co-organizer Jarvis Jones.
While working together at Sonic Drive-In over the course of a few years they spent many days talking about change but neither had any idea that they were laying the foundation for the change they spoke so vehemently about.
Under the guidance and tutelage of Sherri Jones the two formed a non-profit, The Ripple Effects, striving to make an impact in our young people’s lives – intervening, creating opportunities and incentivizing productive behavior.
Recently, they have begun a partnership with the Guns for Grants program operating in Brooklyn, New York, and are in the early stages of bringing the program to Mississippi. An alternative to incarceration could become a win-win, saving taxpayers untold thousands of dollars per year, and providing educational scholarships to young people to learn trades and forge productive careers. Guns off the streets coupled with second chances for many who would not otherwise have them, sure sounds like something we desperately need.
In short – if everything is working ideally, a 13–24-year-old could volunteer to turn-over their illegal gun or ghost gun to the authorities prior to any charges, then enter this program and begin their life anew with a chance to establish a new foundation from which to move forward – leaving the streets behind in their rear-view mirror.
Some might wonder how Bell and Jones connected with Guns for Grants. The founder and CEO of Guns for Grants, Rashid Littlejohn, explains in this email excerpt: “My organization is also a community partner with the Moses West Foundation, where our recent effort was to place an Atmospheric Water Generator in Jackson, Mississippi to assist in the water crisis. During the stay a few of our partners connected with some amazing leaders and we’ve since began exploring the possibility of a G4G program at Jackson State, Tougaloo College and Hinds Community College. We came across your organization and saw a shared mission so hope we can work together.”
Being in the right place at the right time pays dividends – and that would have never happened if The Ripple Effects was not engaged in our community, beating the streets, trying to bring about change. So many are quick to criticize, so few are willing to actually do the work to bring about change. Bell and Jones have unique stories, are wise to our realities in Jackson and Hinds County, and passionate about being a conduit for positive change.
Jones provided an example of the program also having a multiplying componen: “The young person is more than likely going to have some friends, some people that he is hanging around, and it’s going to create a domino effect when he can tell his friend…you know what, I turned my gun in and with this program they paid for me to go to school and now I’m a certified welder.” He emphasized, “We have a message for the youth: hope, caring about them, and providing them with structure, guidance, and discipline.”
When asked about making inroads with the courts, Bell stated, “I’m pretty sure we are going to have resources and we can go to the judge and say this kid signed up for this, we have a four-year contingency plan and if the plan is not followed there will be repercussions, but if the plan is followed – just like an analogy of getting a DUI, if you go to the 30-day class and fulfill the requirements, then you will be able to move forward with your life – right now there are no opportunities for these kids, they are young and they make mistakes, you can’t come back from it, you are deemed bad and now you are in the system.”
The program is in its infancy now and Bell and Jones acknowledge it’s an uphill battle, but they are not going to give up on these young people. Down the road, I hope we can do a follow-up and report to our readers that through the efforts of The Ripple Effects, that guns are coming off the streets and young people are moving forward in purposeful lives.
You can catch The Ripple Effects radio show on WMPR – 90.1 Saturday mornings, 9-10 a.m. You can also reach out to them with questions, feedback or support via AandJTheRippleEffects@gmail.com.