Share This Story

Memphis Allies: Interrupting the drumbeat of gun violence

Life coach Briant Kelly, also known as B Radical, has a routine with the guys he works with in Memphis Allies’ SWITCH program: he calls them first thing in the morning and again before they go to bed at night.

It is an essential temperature check in an environment where cold can turn to hot in an instant.

“At any given moment, they can run into a place of crisis,” Kelly said.

These participants in Memphis Allies’ SWITCH program (Support with Intention to Create Hope) are fortunate in a critical way: they have outreach specialists, life coaches, case managers and clinical specialists all working to help them transform their lives and reduce the risk of becoming a perpetrator or a victim of gun violence.

Through April 30, 2024, Memphis Allies served a combined 491 people through SWITCH and SWITCH Youth – many as full-program enrollees, and others as contacts in the outreach phase.

Since the first outreach specialists were “boots on the ground” in Frayser and Raleigh in the summer of 2022, Memphis Allies has expanded SWITCH services to include Orange Mound and Hickory Hill and added SWITCH Youth programming citywide. Adult SWITCH programming is expected to expand again before year’s end. Unfortunately, daily headlines in Memphis confirm that crisis points often end in bloodshed. In fact, headlines detailing the number of people shot in a given incident or weekend are so common that they obscure the real people on both ends of the guns, and all the lives impacted by even one act of violence. Recently, in front of an audience eager to learn more about Memphis Allies’ work, Kelly and three other frontline staff members were part of a panel discussion. Time and again, they returned to the strong pull of the streets – a factor that people unfamiliar with this environment sometimes can have a difficult time grasping. Florence Collins-Brooks, a Memphis Allies supervisor who learned early in life to distinguish between the sound of a car backfiring and a gunshot, said many young people “have a loyalty to the streets.” That loyalty is misplaced, Kelly said, adding that gang members “often show them fake love.”

Briant Kelly, aka B Radical

The first challenge for Memphis Allies staff is that those they are trying to reach might not realize they’re just being used; the second challenge is that even fake love might feel better than no love at all. Gaining trust isn’t easy, Collins-Brooks said, because if the streets are all they know, they will assume any offer of help comes with a catch. So, she is direct with them: “I don’t want anything in return but for you to wake up tomorrow.” She also shares her own story of having been a gang member, having been shot, and having spent time in prison. “They can spot a lie,” she said. “I’m not afraid to share those things because that’s part of my testimony.” Renardo Baker, founder of Orange Mound’s “I Shall Not Die But Live!” initiative and a partner of Memphis Allies, said many young people in Memphis’ poorest, most violent neighborhoods grow up with trauma that most adults cannot fathom. “You might have gone to five or six funerals, and you’re a teenager,” Baker said. “Your mind is trying to process all this death.”

I don’t want anything in return but for you to wake up tomorrow

Florence (Flo) CollinsBrooks

Collins-Brooks understands. Today, when she looks at participants in the program she sees her own reflection, recognizes their pain as what was once her pain. It is why she believes the clinical component of SWITCH and SWITCH Youth is essential. “I didn’t start the healing process until I opened up to someone about the trauma behind all the action,” she said. Meanwhile, the beat goes on. “For a lot of these guys,” Kelly said, “it’s all survival mode.” Which is why Memphis Allies is a 24-7 commitment. Or as Memphis Allies Operations Director Carl Davis put it: “The streets don’t close, so we don’t close.”

More Posts

Memphis Allies Leadership Promotions Brittney Ragin Blog Post Featured Image

Leadership Promotions at Memphis Allies

Memphis Allies announces two leadership promotions As Memphis Allies moves into its third year of providing direct services to those most at risk for gun violence, Executive Director Susan Deason has announced two staff promotions: Jevonte Porter has been promoted to...

Meet Regional Supervisor Aviance

Meet Regional Supervisor Aviance

Right where she is supposed to be, Aviance Brown-Austin was meant for this work Aviance Brown-Austin was born to a 15-year-old mother, and partially raised by a youngish grandmother. “Technically, I raised myself,” she said. “Along with the streets.” Aviance made her...

The Pattern of Change Has Started

The Pattern of Change Has Started

For partner organizations, the pattern of change has started Ephie Johnson, president and CEO of Neighborhood Christian Centers, Inc., was a co-host of the first Breakthrough Conference in 2023. She liked what the national speakers on community violence intervention,...