By Antonia Marrero for the Moral Courage Project
“The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.” Robert F. Kennedy, Remarks to the Cleveland City Club, April 5, 1968
As I read what RFK said in the wake of MLK’s assassination, I think of Kenneth Edwards. In the midst of his own heart, Kenneth has carved a purpose that recognizes terrible truths. He interrupts violence. He seeks redemption by facilitating the advancement of those tempted to resort to guns. Knowing that Kenneth is patrolling a few blocks yonder where I live, unarmed, helping would-be thugs practice nonviolence, makes me feel safe.
Kenneth leads high-risk mediations and prevents retaliatory gun violence with an authority that comes from a rare combination of experience, education, and dedication. A mere ten months preceding the Crown Heights Riot of August 1991, Kenneth got himself in horrible trouble. Selling drugs in cahoots with a childhood friend, a disagreement led to manslaughter by gunshot. With no witnesses, it was only Kenneth’s conscience that led him to confess. While serving 17 years Riker’s Island, he met teachers who mentored him. And now as a free man, Kenneth does everything in his power to guide his clients in productive paths out of violence.
Kenneth works with Save Our Streets Crown Heights (S.O.S.). Informed by protocols proven to halt plagues like cholera and tuberculosis, S.O.S. seeks to reframe violence as a disease that can be wiped out. Their approach encompasses outreach, education, community mobilization, and civic partnerships. Their field, a 40-block catchment, has registered significant and positive results: an ongoing reduction in shootings and an increase in civic involvement.
Kenneth recognizes the terrible truths of our existence: that gun violence will continue to devastate and degrade everyone. The answer isn’t more violence, the answer is to change a community that accepts violence as normal into a community that rejects violence like a virus.