Metropolitan Peace Academy Celebrates Graduates of Street Outreach, Case Management and Victim Advocacy Training Programs to Stop Gun Violence

Graduates and guests attend the 2024 Winter graduation of the Metropolitan Peace Academy held on Thursday, January 18, 2024 at South Shore Cultural Center. (Photo credit: Ken Lewis)

There was much to celebrate as the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives’ (MPI), Metropolitan Peace Academy (MPA) honored four graduating cohort classes on Thursday, January 18, 2024 at South Shore Cultural Center. Eighty-five graduates received certificates and awards for completing trainings focused on case management, victim services, and street outreach.

The evening was hosted by Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P) Field Manager Jaron Washington, who was a participant in the program just one year earlier. He, along with a number of past MPA graduates, have used the program to further professionalize the field of street outreach, build a citywide network, and enhance community capacity to reduce violence.

MPI Chief Program Officer Domonique McCord provided opening remarks, which included recognition of the newly-opened MPA building and acknowledgements to Metropolitan Family Services (MFS) leadership, families, friends, and graduates.

“We salute you. And we thank you for the dedication and love you pour back into the city of Chicago, our city, every day,” McCord said. “You have worked hard. You deserve to be proud of this achievement. We congratulate you all. Take this opportunity to celebrate!”

Eddie Bocanegra, Senior Advisor for Community Violence Intervention (CVI) at the Department of Justice, served as the evening’s keynote speaker. As a native of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, a formerly incarcerated individual, and a leader within several community-based organizations, Bocanegra is no stranger to the field. He personally connected with graduates by highlighting how their unique expertise can help reduce gun violence across the city.

“We know that guns and other serious violence is one of the biggest challenges facing many Americans today. As you have shown us, this is a complex problem,” Bocanegra said. “It demands a community-wide response and success depends on the expertise and credibility of people who’ve lived through these challenges. This work cannot be done without you.”

Department of Justice Senior Advisor for Community Violence Intervention (CVI) Eddie Bocanegra serves as the keynote speaker at the Metropolitan Peace Academy’s 2024 Winter graduation. (Photo credit: Ken Lewis)

The graduating cohorts included Case Management Cohort 6, Victim Services Cohort 1, Outreach Cohort 14, and Outreach Cohort 15. As graduates received their certificates, a number of individuals were also spotlighted for special recognitions including Perfect Attendance, Resilience, Leadership, Most Improved, Greatest Motivator, and more.

Guests also heard directly from participants throughout the evening with personal reflection videos detailing their experience with the MPA. Cohort 15 graduate and “The Voice Is Yours” award recipient Fantasia Smith got emotional in speaking on the Academy and the profound effect it’s had on her life.

“The MPA has been great for me. It has taught me so much in wanting to have integrity in my life and work. The standards that they implement, [I’ve taken] them home for myself. I’ve had a couple trials and tribulations during these 18 weeks and I feel like without the MPA, I probably wouldn’t have made it through some of them,” Smith said while tearing up.

“After these 18 weeks and dealing with my cohort members, it was like a light was turned on in me. I started believing in myself and just knowing that I could be a better person. The love that you get when you come in here from the facilitators, from your cohort members, even from the people in Cohort 14…the love is just great.”

The evening wrapped with closing remarks from MPI Chief Training Officer Dr. Vanessa Perry-DeReef who spoke candidly about the growth and impact of the MPA. As she thanked MFS leadership, MPI staff and CP4P partners, she recognized the graduates for their participation and commitment to helping heal Chicago.

“[Our graduates] keep us going. You continue to help us believe in the mission,” Dr. Perry-DeReef said. “We want to continue this work. We want to continue doing good work, as long as you continue to believe in us.”

The Metropolitan Peace Academy team takes a photo ahead of the 2024 Winter graduation held on Thursday, January 18, 2024 at South Shore Cultural Center. (Photo credit: Ken Lewis)