By Mrinal Gokhale
With Milwaukee’s skyrocketing homicide rate, there was no better time to hear about possible strategies to reduce violence than with the start of the New Year. On Fri, Jan 7, Erica Ford, CEO of LIFE Camp, spoke about how she specializes in keeping young people, ages 16-24, out of the criminal justice system.
“I have been doing this work since 1987,” Ford said. She recalled a time in the 1980s when the cocaine epidemic took the lives of many of her loved ones in her Queens neighborhood. After being an activist against violence for so long, she eventually founded LIFE Camp, which stands for “Love Ignites Freedom Through Education.”
Alderwoman Milele Coggs, State Rep. David Crowley, the City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention and Lauren Group made this “after work power up” day possible.
“I believe Ms. Ford’s appearance offers a positive opportunity for us to come together to listen to her ideas and her strategies about reducing violence,” said Ald. Coggs in a press release.
Ford spoke at the space of Render, a new Milwaukee technology start up company, located at 2209 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. Starting at 4 p.m., her entire speech was streamed live on the Office of Violence Prevention’s Facebook page.
Ford described LIFE Camp’s approach to preventing and eliminating violence as “unconventional.” “Something makes people do bad things,’” Ford said. “We have to do unconventional therapy to help people move past their life traumas.”
LIFE Camp also offers legal services as well as a workforce readiness program for those ages 16-24 who are not attending school and are unemployed. After her speech, people had a chance to ask some questions.
One of the first questions she got was: “Here in Milwaukee, we have the number one incarceration rate in planet Earth. We’re number one for kicking women out of their homes… It’s frustrating when you have the power as an executive who knows what’s going on, but do nothing. How do you deal with that?”
Ford replied, “You have a choice. You can either spend your time physically, emotionally or mentally fighting them, because there’s a lot they’re not doing, or you can ask yourself what your mission and vision is.”
Martha Love, founder of Human Trafficking Task Force in Wisconsin, asked Ford how she helped youth who had been trafficked into sex slavery.
“We know there’s a lot of violence in the youth sex trafficking world. How do you handle youth practicing survivor sex and the whole issue of human trafficking in the New York area?” Love asked.
Ford agreed that sex trafficking was problematic all over the country and that those who were trafficked were usually very young.
“The men in our community have to play a role in not letting that happen to our children. There’s no other answer,” she said. She then addressed the danger of abandoned houses serving as a ground for prostitution and how “snitching” makes it hard for people to speak up.
“The dynamics of who commits these crimes have changed. It’s pastor Deacon’s grandson and Mary’s son. It goes back to the role of the community taking responsibility,” she said. “People don’t want to snitch, but if I’m a grandma seeing human trafficking going on in a home near me, it’s my duty to stop that from happening. For men in our community, it’s their duty and responsibility to protect mothers, children and their families.”
Ford’s speech was finished at about 6 p.m. The attendees had a chance to mingle while also getting the chance to buy a LIFE Camp hooded sweatshirt in bright orange, a color that represents peace to the organization.