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Richmond program helps teens in Gilpin pick up drums, not guns

RICHMOND, Va. – Violence isn’t uncommon for residents of Richmond’s Gilpin Court, though the other day it spilled into the lobby of the city’s housing management. A man shot in the thigh stumbled into the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority office and slumped over.

It was a change of pace for Ingram Brown, the woman who helps oversee the organization that provides public housing to roughly 10,000 lower income Richmond residents.

"So, I knew that I needed to initially create a tourniquet and the only thing I had was my belt buckle or my belt from my dress. So, I took the belt off and I made a tourniquet,” said Brown, HR Director at RRHA.

The victim was rushed to the hospital.

“He said no one would help him outside on the street,” Brown said. “So, he came into the building.”

His shooting was one of over 180 recorded this year in the city. The violence in Richmond’s six public housing communities is under scrutiny as numerous organizations search for solutions.

One man is working to bring a new rhythm to the conversation. Ram Bhagat works for the Richmond Peace Education Center, which launched the Gilpin Court Youth Peace Team, with a grant. 

They want teens to resolve differences with drums instead of guns.

It's a crime-fighting initiative designed to give young people ages 12 to 19 the chance to be peacemakers in their neighborhoods.

“Through the years, we found that drumming is a universal tool for connecting with people, of all cultures, all ages, all races, all backgrounds,” Bhagat said.

A federal grant will help support program, which includes drumming, yoga, urban gardening and conflict resolution. The program includes snacks, games, and field trips.

“We have shooting after shooting after shooting that`s causing trauma and we`re not dealing with the trauma,” said Bhagat.

“When you live someplace like this, you have a lot of rage, you have a lot of anger,” Bhagat said. “And that`s natural when you`re struggling for resources. You`re struggling just to make it every day.”

Organizers want a send a message that there is another way.

“I`m not purporting to know how to end gun violence. But I know how to deal with the traumatic effects of gun violence and I feel like that`s not being addressed,” said Bhagat.

They hope to expand the Peace Team initiative to other public housing communities.

If you are interested in the program, you can pick an application at the Calhoun Center in Gilpin Court or call 804-232-1002.