Amber Sloan, left, and Michael Talley talk in their office at the Community College of Allegheny County Homewood-Brushton Center where they are community success coaches, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in Homewood South. Sloan and Talley use their own life experience and knowledge of the community to help others connect with support and resources available to both prevent and respond to the impacts of gun violence. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)
A combination of coaching, therapy and help with educational costs is countering the effects of violence with opportunities and unique bonds.
Julian Johnson knows firsthand the consequences of rampant gun violence, and he wants his younger neighbors to know “you don’t have to live like that.”
Two of his cousins have been shot and killed. He’s lost a lot of friends the same way. He knows the father of a young man who died in a shooting at 20. Outside of his funeral this October, another shooting injured six more people.
“It takes a toll,” said Johnson, 51.
He hopes a program he completed at the Community College of Allegheny County [CCAC] will catch on – and change his community.
With an $800,000 grant from the commonwealth, CCAC has launched the Guns Down, Level Up program, which welcomed its first cohort in September. The program requires CCAC students to participate in free therapy through the Allegheny Health Network [AHN] and meet with a student success coach each week. For participants enrolled in for-credit programs, the college picks up tuition and other educational costs that financial aid doesn’t cover. As of mid-December, more than 50 students had participated.
“How is it going to grow if the people who went through it don’t tell everybody else?,” Johnson said.
“If you don’t have something for them to do,” said Johnson, referring to young people caught up in cyclical violence, “or if they think there isn’t another way they can get a better education or learn a trade – if all hope is lost – they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing.”
‘Don’t give up now’
In January 2022, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency awarded 25 entities across the state about $23 million collectively to develop projects aimed at preventing gun violence and group violence. CCAC was the only college in the county to receive a grant in that funding round.
The funding comes as Pittsburgh’s homicide rate hit at least a seven-year high in 2022. Nearly nine out of 10 involved a firearm, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported in late October.