Alliance For Peace brainstorms ways to transform violence 


By Brianna Ferguson, Student Journalist

Less than a week after Peekskill’s state senator came to town and delivered a $100,000 grant for a violence prevention program, the newly-formed Alliance For Peace organized a town hall meeting where officials asked for suggestions on how best to use the money and engage young people. 

“Getting the money was the easy part; the hard work starts tonight,” said Senator Peter Harckham. “It starts with us listening. I’m not a young man or woman of color. I don’t have that experience so I cannot tell you how I’m going to fix the problems if I don’t know what they are and if I don’t listen. This is about reaching people who are just beyond our fingertips. What are the challenges, what are the barriers, what are the triggers?” 

Martin McDonald, founder of the Black Diamonds Academic Success nonprofit program, which received $50,000 of the state money, told the 100 people who gathered in Peekskill Middle School’s cafeteria at round tables, “We have some challenges, and it’s not just here in Peekskill, it’s all over. And now we have an opportunity to do something about it. We want to hear from you and get your thoughts and feelings on our community’s perspective,” said McDonald. 

Peekskill High School Assistant Principal Margie Daniels with a member of the Black Diamonds. 

The youth violence McDonald was referring to was the stabbing death of two young adults in the past two years and recent gun related incidents. “We’ve had some challenges in this community going back to 2020 when we lost Omarion McKenzie, and then a year after that we lost Joaquin Salazar. And then we had a young lady who was shot at the beginning of this month.” 

McDonald said that Antonio Hendrickson, founder of Lead by Example Reverse the Trend will be leading a six-week workshop, meeting twice a week beginning September 19th. “He’s a visiting expert and he’s bringing some of his staff along,” explained McDonald. “The goal is to target young people in the community who would benefit from mentoring.”  

Black Diamond members listen to comments from community members.

Lead by Example Reverse the Trend was created in 2014 as a way to redirect and empower young people through mentoring. Founded by a group of dedicated ex-convicts, Lead by Example Reverse the Trend helps prepare at-risk youth for adulthood by teaching them critical communication and social skills, and helps them to become positive, assertive adults with a strong sense of their true potential. Lead by Example Reverse The Trend offers support at times of crisis, when intervention by experienced mentors often prevents trouble and promotes reconciliation ahead of violence. 

Hendrickson and his team of mentors have been doing this work in Harlem. “We’re going to be working with 15-20 participants that will provide anti-gun awareness through the use of credible messengers – including individuals who have been touched by real effects of gun violence,” said McDonald of the workshops.  It is expected that the workshops will demonstrate for participants the value of dissolving conflicts without resorting to violence, and understanding the consequences of the involvement in gun violence. The overall goal of the workshops is to encourage participants to become part of the solution to ending gun violence and violence in general, while working together to promote safety within their community, explained McDonald. 

One of the key requirements of the state grant money was the need for partnerships among the different entities in the city. The Alliance for Peace is composed of the Peekskill City School District, the City of Peekskill’s Youth Bureau, the NAACP, and the Black Diamonds. “We’re looking for more partners,” said McDonald. He added that there needs to be more young people involved in the discussion.

Police Chief Leo Dylewski, Senator Harckham and Superintendent Mauricio at the community meeting.

“This is a remarkable coalition, the Alliance for Peace,” said Harckham. His comments were echoed by Peekskill School Superintendent Dr. David Mauricio about ways to prevent violence.  “I think this is a great continued step in doing that work; it is not only the school district, not the city by itself, not the police, not the churches by themselves; it’s collectively all of us working together and listening to our youth and to our families. And how we can best serve our youth and prevent these [things] from happening.” 

From the author: As a Peekskill community member and student of Peekskill High School, this was a very important discussion with the community on how to combat these challenges and how to further support them in the upcoming months. The community has shared some ideas of how to help the situations of our city. Working together on this will better help rather than being on our own and the community not knowing how to help. Speaking up on situations like this matters, no matter what. Use your voice and help be the change of helping our community.