“Violence has a girlfriend, and that girlfriend is poverty – and they get along pretty well.” So says David Bush, the new Commissioner for Save Our Community, an intervention program to reduce gun violence. Created by Mayor Kapszukiewicz in 2021 during a time when the city saw a record number of homicides, the program has three key objectives: 1. to detect and interrupt conflicts, 2. To identify and treat high risk individuals and 3. to change social norms.
Prior to taking on the role in May 2022, Bush worked with at-risk youth through the MADD Poets Society, a nonprofit that he formed in 1999. MADD – Making A Direct Difference – helps young people redirect difficult emotions into words. “There is a power in words,” Bush said, reflecting on his motivation for starting the group. “Words can do two things: bring you up or bring you down. Words can cause wars – but they can also cause people to fall in love.”
Emphasizing mentoring and structure
With a heavy emphasis on mentoring and structure, the MADD Poets have helped countless troubled teenagers to find a more productive path. A living example of what opportunities are possible, Bush, who has worked for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library since 1993, was often the first black male librarian that kids had met. “I offered a symbol of hope to the youth, letting them know they can be anything they want to be in life.“
Many MADD Poets Society alumni have gone on to graduate from college and to become professionals. Now, Bush is using his experience and communication skills on a bigger stage through Save Our Community. Using the power of words, he and his team of interrupters (sometimes erroneously referred to as violence interrupters) are connecting with people that may lack a connection with others. “I let you know I see you, I hear you; that in itself is an art form.”
From high-risk to low-risk
“We’re working with high-risk individuals; shooters, gang members and those who may be thinking about partaking in that lifestyle. We want to take them from high-risk to low-risk by providing them with resources to get them back on track.” By developing real connections with those who may otherwise be forgotten or ignored, Save Our Community helps to identify and work through conflicts before those conflicts escalate into an outbreak of violence.
Much of the program’s work involves interrupting the violence of poverty. Besides the interrupters, Save Our Community employs an outreach specialist who functions as a community health advocate, connecting people to resources that address material needs, including nonprofit and government programs that assist with employment, food security, clothing, health and wellness, mental health and shelter.
The Save Our Community program, currently operating in the Junction/Englewood and Lagrange Street neighborhoods, is expanding its offerings into East Toledo. For more information, visit toledo.oh.gov/departments/safety-department/save-our-community.