BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Brooklyn native Juan Ramos received a second chance after leaving behind a life of crime.
The former gang leader now heads Save Our Streets Bed-Stuy, a recently established anti-gun violence program that provides a support system for at-risk individuals and helps mediate conflicts on neighborhood blocks.
The organization launched last fall and is modeled after S.O.S Crown Heights, which employs locals with ties to the street and former gang members who act as peacemakers. Both are projects of the Center for Court Innovation.
Ramos, 40, said he hopes to bring his experiences to the role of program manager and replicate the guidance he received in his youth.
“I lost my younger brother to gun violence, not because he died but because he took a life and is doing time in prison,” he said.
“After running a gang in the city, this really presented an opportunity for me to say, ‘I’ve made changes in my life.’
“I want to share that with people and influence them in the way I was by others who stepped in and helped me before it was too late.”
The Bed-Stuy branch covers the neighborhood from Kosciuszko to Madison streets and Nostrand Avenue to Marcus Garvey Boulevard. The immediate “catchment area” has gone 192 days without a shooting as of Wednesday, according to the group.
Through the program, “violence interrupters” work through the early hours of the morning to help resolve potentially violent issues between community members.
“They’re having the conversations on the corners that no one wants to stand on, with the guys who don’t want to go to the youth centers and the ones who don’t want to talk to anyone else,” Ramos said.
The seven-member squad uses knowledge of the streets to connect with young men and women ages 16 through 29. Outreach workers maintain constant communication with up to 30 participants through house visits, calls or texts.
“We’re not asking them to walk a walk that we haven’t before,” Ramos said. “We say, ‘We’ve been able to survive, but in the process we’ve also lost a lot and we don’t want that for you.’”
S.O.S. Bed-Stuy targets persons at high-risk, or those individuals who may have been formally incarcerated or have been known to carry a gun. The organization provides professional services for participants, including job readiness programs and mental health support.
This week, the group started its first series of free legal clinics.
Since its inception in September, the branch also provided jobs for five participants in collaboration with local coffee shop Reconnect Café. The Tompkins Avenue business hires young adults who may have limited access to jobs as a result of incarceration or lack of resources.
Monthly get-togethers also contribute to fostering a safe environment, Ramos said. Videogame nights, workshops and sports viewing parties at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center encourage the young men to put aside their differences.
“It really is about our credible messengers, which is an ingredient to any community,” added outreach supervisor Derick Latif Scott. “I know we’re doing our job because one participant came in with an additional five guys and said, ‘They need their minds changed as well.’
“These kids are looking for a way out, if only people would take the time out to have a conversation with them.”