University of Delaware Professor Yasser Payne’s Efforts to Decrease Wilmington’s Crime Rate
Growing up running the streets of Harlem, Payne’s seen more than his share of violence—and he believes he has a way to end it. Will it change a troubled Wilmington?
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“The first appeal of PAR was that it was employment, period,” Wilson says. “I had a degree, but I wasn’t doing anything with it. Second, there was a genuinely thoughtful and academic approach to it. I was attracted by the idea of using people from the community on the team. It was the first time I saw qualified, educated African-Americans studying African-Americans. I was really impressed by that.”
One outcome of Wilson’s street life was he was paralyzed from the waist down from a shooting during a random robbery, the last of four shootings he suffered while “being involved in the wrong lifestyle.” One important outcome of his participation in the Wilmington PAR Project was his enrollment in Wilmington University master’s program in social services administration. Another: The Fatherhood Foundation, his effort, based on the high number of female-headed households in the community, to educate men about the importance of being good fathers.
Not everyone from the hood wants to fix the hood, Wilson says. But there is more talent, intelligence, pride, love and desire to improve than anyone would understand by merely looking in from the outside.
“‘The People’s Report’ starts the conversation that people can be comfortable discussing these issues,” says Madden. “As much as it has transformed individuals, it has transformed structures.” Convincing one of the state’s largest employers to hire a PAR team member, despite a past felony conviction, Madden says, is a step in the right direction. Jones cites a similar success at the University of Delaware.
“For me, it’s structural,” Payne says: The American style of capitalism creates systems that benefit some at the expense of others. “Most folks are oblivious to the economic realities. People are OK with the viciousness that is inherent in the system. We’ve normalized it as, ‘It’s just business.’”
Not that any problem is that simple, but the results remain: Some people forced into desperate circumstances, do desperate things. That’s been the case for some portion of black America for 350 years, Payne says, and though the laws have changed, some circumstances remain the same. The issues of 2013 aren’t so different than the issues of 1963.
Having studied revolutionary movements and leaders, Payne has identified several reasons for their failures. Many were full of fire, but short on strategy. Some sputtered with the assassinations of their leaders. Sometimes the leaders simply burned out. “They literally died for their movements,” Payne says. “There are no happy endings.”
Because it puts the power to change in the hands of the people, PAR, he believes, is sustainable. As his doctoral adviser, Michelle Fine of City University points out, it has been proven to be effective in reforming urban education, corrections and other systems. And as social movements around the world have shown, it is contagious.