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In a stand against violence, these 'urban specialists' invade communities

  1. Strong & Safe Communities

In a stand against violence, these 'urban specialists' invade communities

Urban Specialists is an organization dedicated to violence prevention gang intervention by activating leaders to affect change.

A group of children pose for a photo in school

Pastor Omar Jahwar, a prominent city leader and gang interventionist, applied his years of experience and success quelling youth violence in the streets of Dallas to found Urban Specialists in 1998.

Instability, violence, and unrest fuel persistent poverty and fear in neighborhoods across our country – particularly in inner cities. But, without fear, individuals and families are empowered to actively seek solutions and help one another.

That's where Urban Specialists (US) steps in. By promoting safety and empowerment, US catalyzes community transformation by activating leaders with the influence to affect change.

Headquartered in South Dallas, US is an organization dedicated to violence prevention and gang intervention. They work with individuals from the community – many former offenders and ex-gang members – who have fundamentally transformed from a life of violence to one of empowerment and giving back. Once transformed, they have the unique experience, knowledge, and credibility necessary to work in dangerous, troubled communities and help others walk the same path of positive transformation.

Their approach is particularly effective with youth. US partners with 18 of the toughest schools in the Dallas Public School District, mentoring kids, participating in school programming, and providing safety and security on campus. These schools consistently see a decrease in truancy, disciplinary actions, and violence where Urban Specialists are present.

They're also in the community and on the streets, mediating disputes and developing relationships. More than an active presence, they're also actively listening. By fostering discussion between people in the community and various professions, including law enforcement, US bridges the gap that often fuels distrust. They host community conversations to engage men and women in finding the solutions to the problems in their neighborhood.

Urban Specialists has started training leaders in other urban areas with their proven model. With over 20 years of experience serving the Dallas community, US has served nearly 17,000 people. They have trained 340 Specialists and are currently partnered with more than 50 schools and organizations in Dallas and beyond.

A group of children pose for a photo in school


The tragedy of July 7, 2016

In the heart of downtown Dallas around 9 pm on a Thursday night in July, Micah Xavier Johnson opened fire on Dallas police officers in response to the recent killings of two black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Before his death at the scene, Johnson killed five police officers and injured nine others, including two civilians.

Johnson devastated the Dallas community and sent shockwaves around the country, heightening the national attention drawn to unrest and dissent between law enforcement and communities. Former Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who resigned in October 2016, became a national face of law enforcement during the crisis, working to comfort his Dallas community and address the deep rifts furthered by the shootings.

What did he do? Chief Brown called Pastor Omar Jahwar.

Pastor Jahwar is the CEO and executive director of Urban Specialists (US). Jahwar was the first gang specialist hired by Dallas corrections authorities in the mid-1990s and helped negotiate the first gang truce between notorious rivals, the Bloods and the Crips. In 1998, he directed his years of experience and success subduing youth violence into founding Urban Specialists. An affiliate of the Woodson Center, Urban Specialists works to transform low-income communities from the inside out. In Jahwar's words, "No one knows how to keep someone out of a gang better than someone who was in a gang." Most trained Specialists can draw on years of experience with gang violence to help resolve the community's deep-seated issues and reach at-risk youth. It's a model that has started transforming Dallas.

Urban Specialists' 3-I Model

Today's urban culture advances destructive ideas — ones that promote violence, racism, and division — through music, entertainment, clothing, television, social media, politics, and more. To combat the effects of those messages, US trains Specialists through a process that transcends culture, race, and politics. Because in the words of Pastor Omar Jahwar,

"In order to be effective, you have to have different specialists that come in and perform surgical operations from a social side."

The approach focuses on invading culture, intruding in the lives of youth, and partnering with key institutions:

  • INVADE. US invades culture to change these destructive beliefs and rewrite a positive narrative of unity rather than division, peace rather than violence.
  • INTRUDE. US shows up and stays present in the lives of at-risk youth to have the most positive impact.
  • INSTITUTE. US works with institutions to analyze and build the most effective programs and services that promote peace, prosperity, and progress in urban communities.

Urban Specialists has gained the trust of both law enforcement and the Dallas community by being present in the toughest, most dangerous situations on street corners, at bus stops, and in school hallways. Trained Specialists accompany youth into threatening situations to bring peace rather than wage war. With the credibility from the community and the knowledge from experience, Specialists effectively diffuse charged situations while simultaneously promoting a productive alternative to violence.

No one knows this better than Antong Lucky, who started the Dallas chapter of the Bloods gang in opposition to its rival, the Crips. Lucky, lured by the temptation of street gangs and drug dealing, went from straight A's to selling drugs as a thirteen-year-old. Incarceration and Jahwar's mentorship helped Lucky redirect his efforts for good. Since his release, Lucky has dedicated his life to countering gang violence, penetrating urban culture with positive messages, and mentoring youth. He launched a recording studio, "We Make Real Music," to help replace the destructive messages of the entertainment industry with positive ideas, values, and morals. Today, Lucky works with Urban Specialists as a trainer and educator.

By recognizing the unique gifts, talents, and experiences of all individuals and believing that transformation and change are possible for every individual, Urban Specialists is not only making a direct impact but showing our country what's possible for those living in troubled neighborhoods.

Urban Specialists is supported by Stand Together Foundation, which partners with the nation’s most transformative nonprofits to break the cycle of poverty.

Learn more about Stand Together's efforts to build strong and safe communities, and explore ways you can partner with us.

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