First group of men graduate from ‘Advance Peace’ program

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A dozen men who have been involved in shootings in the City of Rochester are turning away from gun violence. They were the first to graduate from a City program called “Advance Peace” that provides payments, mentoring, therapy and travel to “fellows” who are willing to attempt to turn their lives around.   

Cartiey Martin tells News10NBC he remembers someone in his northside neighborhood passing out flyers about Advance Peace just a few days before he was shot multiple times. He’s not shy about his past.

“Some people really just trying to survive, ya know, and sometimes that gun is a part of it,” Martin says.

While he was recovering, he remembered that flyer and decided to give the program a try.    

The Advance Peace fellows were recruited into the program by men hired by the City with similar backgrounds who have turned their lives around.

“We recognize the barriers that have been put in place before they were even born,” says Advisor on Violence Prevention Programs for the City of Rochester, Victor Saunders. “Some of which we have all had to live with as African-American men in this city, that being the case– they were able to really pick apart all those different situations and understand the need for us as a people to be able to be more cohesive.”

The program provides each fellow with a mentor, a monthly stipend, help with finding housings, a job, healthcare and therapy. All the fellows and mentors also come together for group meetings and exercises. 

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) – “In this first cohort, did any of the men pick up a gun again?”

Vic Saunders – “Well, we did lose one unfortunately to homicide who had just signed on with us.  He didn’t really have an opportunity to really engage with us over the long-term.”

In fact, that young man was killed on the same weekend the rest of the Advance Peace fellows and their mentors traveled to the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass incarceration, in Alabama.

“You had individuals who had otherwise harbored a lot of their feelings themselves, really… couldn’t keep it in, it was just that deep of an experience,” says Saunders.

“That was my first time being on a plane, was in this program,” says Martin. “It definitely opens your eyes to something more than the 4 corners you’re used to.”

Martin is now hoping he can become an Advance Peace mentor, someone who can hit the streets and talk to men with lives that look like his did, just a short time ago. 

“This program saved my life really, it’s really what I needed gave me another alternative besides retaliation,” Martin says. “My future, It’s bright…It’s a lot, it’s a lot to take in… I didn’t see myself here six months ago.”

This was the first cohort of men to participate. Currently, the City of Rochester has the funding in place for a second cohort to start soon. After that, Mayor Malik Evans tells News10NBC he’ll assess the program and decide how to move forward and whether it should be expanded in other areas of the City.