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Interview with CCE Executive Committee Member, Tyrone Parker

Theodore Whitehouse, CCE Board Director, Reentry Project Committee Chair, and partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher recently sat down for a one-on-one conversation with Tyrone Parker, CCE Executive Committee member, a member of CCE’s Reentry and School Discipline project committees, and Executive Director of the Alliance of Concerned Men.

Ted Whitehouse (TW):  Why don’t we begin with your organization, Alliance of Concerned Men.  How did you get started?

Tyrone Parker (TP):  It all began 23 years ago.  My son was killed at a skating rink in DC. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, simple as that.  I had received a call at two a.m. from my daughter telling me that her brother had been shot.  I asked her, “how bad,” never expecting him to be dead.  But, that’s what had happened. Two kids just started shooting at one another and a stray bullet killed my son. He was a good son, a son I could always count on.  We were close.  And now he was gone.  Mind you, this happened at a time when the District was in the midst of a terrible situation; with homicides on the rise, on the front pages of the newspapers, and murder almost considered an acceptable practice in some communities.

At that point, I thought we’ve got to do something, but I didn’t see anyone putting forth effort or solutions being proposed.  So, I got together with friends from Eastern High School, all of whom knew the challenges of our community.  We began to ask ourselves, what could we do to stop the killing in our community?  It was all new to us….as we had never seen a level of killing amongst our children like this before.  Five of us came together.  We had grown up with one another and had gone our separate ways; some were married, some went to college, others into the military, and others to prison.  Ultimately, we saw a reason and a purpose to come together around this issue, which has always been the mission of the Alliance of Concerned Men, to stop the hemorrhaging, the senseless ending of human lives.

TW: How did you decide what to focus on at the time?

TP:  We asked ourselves if we should become a “hands-on” organization, and we actually voted, 3 to 2, to work within the community in a very direct way.   We had little or no training, and there was not much sense of direction about what to do. Yet, we kept asking ourselves…. why were kids killing one another at such an alarming rate?  Shortly thereafter, we began to understand why this was happening and what we could do about it. We learned that the solution was in the problem.  We realized that young people in our communities had no sense of purpose or reason. With that in mind, we started out by going into Benning Terrace, an area considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the District of Columbia and the tenth most dangerous area in the country at that time. There had been something like 59 murders in a relatively short period, and terrible things happening like kids being kidnapped and killed on their way to school.

We kept meeting at one another’s houses.  At that point we had nothing; no computers, no resources, nothing except our understanding of the community.  And with that we started to talk to people about what was going on. Slowly, we were able to get both sides of the opposing groups of young people to come to the table and to negotiate a truce. Once that happened, the media picked up on it and things began to change. We were able to get the crews to put their guns down, even in the most dangerous place imaginable, and to begin to take ownership and work to clean up the community.    

TW: How did the organization grow from there?

TP:   We just kept building from the ground up.  Now, there are about 25 in the organization with a very large volunteer base.  We also operate out of Prince Georges County, and have negotiated many other truces since then, of the same magnitude, to keep the kids from killing one another.  And the most effective thing about that is that ACM offers kids the opportunity to put their guns down and keep their heads up without the involvement of the police.  So, to some degree we reduced the incarceration rate. Today, the Alliance continues to offer young people the opportunity to put aside guns and violence and engage in making some of the most challenging communities much safer.

TW: This is such a powerful message.  How did you get the kids to listen then and now?

TP:  ACM believes that the kids are waiting for someone to hear them, to offer them some compassion and some concern, and to help them navigate. Unfortunately, they are not on anyone’s radar screen any longer.  We believe there are three types of youth: kids who are at risk, high risk, and proven risk, with the latter being those youth who already have convictions for violent crime. These youth typically come from single-parent homes or have no parental care at all, fending for themselves on the streets.  The high risk and proven risk youth are our population, and we are listening to them very carefully.  They are the top priority on our radar screen.

TW:  How do you communicate that message?

TP:  The common denominator is that we can show them a better tomorrow and we do. There are no value judgments made of our kids.  We see two ways to make good on our promises: to give them hope and to secure services that will be beneficial to their evolution. Our primary mission is to bridge that gap and get the kids connected to services.  But ACM is also there to mentor kids, to give them hope, and communicate the spirit of transformation.

TW:  Does the community have the resources?

TP:  Not always, and that’s why it’s important to reach out to congregations and other institutions within the community; not only to understand the problem, but to figure out solutions together. There hasn’t been any substantial research done on this population, nor have the dollars been there.

Yet, ACM has grown and taken on a number of initiatives. We have a full-time staff of ten and we are involved in two projects that deal with youth leadership in Ward 8, as well as working with two high schools, including Ballou.  We’re also collaborating closely with CSOSA (Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency) on a youth initiative. 

TW:  How do you keep going and what’s a typical day for you?

TP: ACM’s funding sources are mainly government and foundations, and some private donations. There’s no such thing as a typical day.  I always look at budgetary issues coming up or programmatic issues on the horizon, or what other partnerships we can be part of.  I also try to do some hands-on mentoring work when possible by going into the schools.  I’ve also been married for 36 years and I still have a cosmetology business on the side which is the business I started many years ago.

TW:  I know you’ve traveled internationally with your message about gang violence.  Can you tell us something about that work?

TP:  I’ve been to Germany, France, and Ukraine.  The latter was a most interesting trip on behalf of the US State Department for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. I visited three different cities and spoke to students and think-tank organizations about the challenges faced by previously incarcerated persons in the US.  To a large degree, this was the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who believed in transforming the dream into a reality in spite of one’s circumstances or conditions.  The students in Ukraine wrote such excellent essays about remembering Dr. King’s dream and messages of hope. While listening to the students in Ukraine, the words of a student named Victor stand out in my mind. He said, “Everything will be just right at the end, and if they’re not right now, then I know this is not the end.”  And that was the consensus of the youth I spoke to. I also spoke to the largest concentration of African and Middle Eastern youth in Kyiv, Ukraine, about how we navigate the challenges we have before us in the United States, particularly for those who have served time.

TW:  How has your period of incarceration affected your perspective?

TP:  It’s a part of my journey that has empowered me to better understand the challenges and all of the issues that we face, like not being able to vote, obtain fair housing, and secure self-sustaining employment, even though we have paid our debt to society. Most feel they have served their sentence but that the playing field is still not level.

TW:  How did you get involved in the Council for Court Excellence and what have you worked on?

TP:  I met [CCE’s founder and former Executive Director] Sam Harahan many years ago.  Sam and the Council wanted to help people and saw the organization as a bridge to unite one community that wanted to help with another community that needed help; a coming together of those that had and those who did not.  Today, the richness of the organization is still profound to me.  I like to say that the Council is the Olympian of Truth and the Champion of Justice!

For me, CCE’s reentry work that includes the 2011 report and the 2012 legislative work that grew out of the Reentry Project Committee, has had a real impact that is, hopefully, long-lasting.  I’m also very involved in CCE’s School Discipline Project that’s looking at the intersection between the educational system and the criminal justice system, the so-called ”School to Prison Pipeline” which has taken a particular form in the District of Columbia.  I’m also particularly proud of my testimony before the DC Council in support of Bill 19-5, the Department of Forensic Sciences Establishment Act of 2011.

TW:  What should CCE be focusing on in the future?

TP:  At the end of the day, there can be nothing as important as preventing youth from involvement in the criminal justice system. 

TW:  Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by these challenging issues?

TP:  My plate is truly full, and sometimes I say, “I’m too tired to continue, but too committed to quit.” This is a profoundly rich organization to be a part of.  I remember when I first attended CCE’s Annual Holiday Reception held for many years at the US District Court for the District of Columbia.  It was baffling to me, because the last time I had been there was when I was sentenced in that Court so many years before.

TW: Is there anything else you wish to tell our readers?

TP: Please visit our website at  I hope that people will continue to support these types of efforts because we are a very necessary resource to the community, not composed of just one part of the population, but of many.  And we are working extremely hard to make the community a safer place.  So much good will is being demonstrated, and the return on this will be unimaginable.


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