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Brooklyn Group Takes Aim at Gun Violence With Community Grant

 A Brooklyn nonprofit is offering $1,000 to a person or group with an anti-gun violence project, and training activists to become community leaders.
A Brooklyn nonprofit is offering $1,000 to a person or group with an anti-gun violence project, and training activists to become community leaders.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

BROOKLYN — Iquan Williams will never see his 17th birthday.

On Jan. 4, Williams, a Bushwick resident and Frederick Douglass Academy sophomore, was standing outside at a party in Ocean Hill about 10:30 p.m. when he was shot in the head.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Brooklyn shootings have become priority number one for some activist groups. Now a local nonprofit hopes it can help solve the problem by funding a grant and teaching those activists to be leaders in their community.

The We Are All Brooklyn Fellowship, sponsored in part by the nonprofit Jewish Community Relations Council, will help jumpstart one or more projects with a grant for individuals or groups looking to combat gun violence in areas like Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Brownsville, East New York and East Flatbush.

"A lot of our fellows hail from communities where it's a major issue," said Adeline Medeiros, a director at the council. 

"Gun violence is on everybody's minds, no matter what issue you're working on."

The 28 We Are All Brooklyn fellows — made up of community activists, clergy and nonprofits — worked together to choose the gun violence theme and will select the winner and raise funds for the project as part of a leadership training process.

The council guarantees at least $1,000 and any additional funds raised will also go towards a larger prize or additional winners, Medeiros said.

After mulling over ideas for the fellowship's $1,000 grant, now in it's seventh year, the group settled on the theme after realizing that each neighborhood they represent was disproportionately affected by gun violence, Medeiros said.

"In a lot of communities, there's not a lot of funding going towards this right now," Medeiros said. "They felt that with this issue their $1,000 could still make a pretty big impact."

One of those fellows is Shanduke McPhatter, 35, who knows first hand the realities of gun violence.

A former Bloods gang member, McPhatter served two two-year sentences for attempted robbery and attempted weapons possession, and in 2004 faced a possible life sentence for the shooting death of an 18-year-old — before another man admitted to committing to the crime.

After finishing his last sentence, McPhatter realized it was time for a change and started Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes, a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring kids in danger of going down the same path he did.

McPhatter was also one of the most vocal supporters of using gun violence as the fellowship's 2014 grant, the activist said.

"Everything fell under the umbrella of the gun violence issue, if you're looking at it from the right perspective," McPhatter said.

"If someone brought up a topic I'd show them how, if we weren't able to combat gun violence, some of the issues they were working on would be null and void."

Now with a spate of high-profile shootings across the country, the Downtown Brooklyn-raised McPhatter said the issue has become more universal and less about "the urban community." 

Although he doesn't expect the group to solve the issue, McPhatter said he hoped the it could at least make some small difference.

"We're not saying we're going to change the world overnight, but we can change the level of gun violence by awareness and prevention," McPhatter said. "It affects all of us, in some form or fashion."

Applications for the We Are All Brooklyn Fellowship anti-gun violence grant must be filled out by March 31.