The City of Danville’s Project Imagine program is launching an initiative to train adults who have been previously incarcerated or on probation to serve as what’s known as a credible messenger—someone who now has unique legitimacy to help others in a similar position.
Robert David, violence prevention manager for Project Imagine, said credible messengers can play a big role in decreasing gun violence within a community, but to be employed as a credible messenger requires training.
“We have citizens who have connections to a community, but they lack training,” David said. “You need some understanding of how to do this work. Just because you have a checkered past doesn’t mean you are a credible messenger. Just because you have been in a gang before doesn’t mean you are a credible messenger.”
David said credible messenger is a profession that requires a skill set, and this training will provide returning citizens with an employable skill set.
“We will be giving them a skill set that they didn’t have and that few individuals have,” David said. “One of the things people don’t understand is that when my staff, or I go out into the streets, we don’t have guns, (police) badges or anything. So, all you have is your credibility.”
David said a trained credible messenger can be employed by governmental, educational, and non-profit agencies to serve as mentors to youths, outreach workers, and violence interrupters. A violence interrupter is an individual that engages with citizens in the community to stop retaliation following a shooting.
Project Imagine will offer quarterly training in three phases. The first phase is 12 hours of training in the following areas:
- Asset development for youths, which involves conducting strength-based assessments using the Clifton Strengths tools to guide youths toward productive lives. River District Consulting will provide this training.
- Childhood adversity and how experiences affect a youth’s development and their response to stress. Danville Pittsylvania Community Services will provide this training using the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) course.
- Resilience training, which teaches youths how to move from failure to success. David will provide this training using a curriculum that he has developed.
- Effecting change as a credible messenger. Curtis Artis, violence prevention assistant manager for Project Imagine, will provide this training.
- Certification in “Stop the Bleed” first aid. The Danville Area Training Center will provide this training.
Adults who complete the first phase will have the option of moving to the second phase, which consists of 20 hours of on-the-job training by shadowing Project Imagine outreach workers.
“They will learn the basic tenets of Project Imagine, how we work, what we do, and how to develop the skills and abilities to be effective in decreasing gang activity and gun violence,” David said. “While they are doing that, they will be developing relationships within the community in a safe space and guided structure.”
After completion of the second phase, David said two returning citizens will be chosen for phase three of the training, which involves national certification as prevention and intervention specialists.
“We are going to vet them based on who has the most passion for this work,” David said. “Once certified, they could get work anywhere in the country.”
David said the first group to undergo phase one training will consist of five adults ranging in age from 25 to 40. They will begin training on June 12.
This workforce development initiative for returning citizens is an expansion of Project Imagine, a community violence intervention collaborative that until now has focused exclusively on steering youths away from gang activity.
Project Imagine has received national recognition. In 2020, David was named a winner of the Frederic Milton Thrasher Award by the National Gang Crime Research Center. The award recognizes his accomplishments in gang prevention and intervention.
The program also received the President’s Award from the Virginia Municipal League in October 2019.