Milwaukee County launches 'credible messenger' pilot program to help curb surge in youth violence

NOW: Milwaukee County launches ’credible messenger’ pilot program to help curb surge in youth violence

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee is filled with stories of prominent community members who rose out of difficult childhoods.

“All the violence is nothing new to me," Running Rebels member Nakia Solochek said." I’ve seen it as I've grown up and been around it all the time, but I elevated from it, and I want to show the youth they can elevate too.”

“I had to deal with a lot of racism," Running Rebels leader Dawn Barnett said. "I had to deal with a lot of that’s you over there, and this is us in the community.”

Solochek and Barnett are just two of the 23 “credible messengers” Milwaukee County will deploy to help mentor youth who have been involved with the criminal justice system.

“This program could not be launched at a more important time, as we’ve seen a surge in violence amongst young people in the recent weeks,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said during a press conference Wednesday, May 5.

Crowley held the press conference at Sherman Park, where a 17-year-old was recently shot to death amidst a surge in youth violence.

Milwaukee County plans to measure success of the program on an individual basis, by seeing if the juveniles stop committing crimes, and if their life quality improves.

The program will operate outside of the court system. Youth participation will be voluntary.

“It can’t be about you forcing them to do something," Barnett said. "It has to be about them wanting to participate because they see you as being genuine in what you do.”

Local leaders have tried similar projects in the past, but credible messengers, who have been doing similar work for decades, said this is a new level of investment.

There will be five different community organizations contracted through Milwaukee County.

“I think the change is really just all of us working together," Solocheck said. "Hand by hand. Side by side. Changing our community. Really taking back our community for the youth.”

Right now, the program has resources to assist 68 at risk youth, but they hope the program can expand in the future.

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