by Wanda Sabir
Coming of age in the ‘60s was a trying time for young African American men whose taste of power made it hard to relinquish their dreams of equality and true democracy shortly thereafter in the ‘70s during the Reagan years with the war on Black people, disguised as a war on drugs. Nonetheless Glen Upshaw did not let fear mitigate or guide his behavior.
He finished high school and respected the lives of other Black men in the community, young and brash like himself, even when he disagreed. It was a time, he recalls in a recent conversation, when life, Black life was precious and elders showed by example that you do not criminalize an entire community for the actions of one person.
“We’d talk to the person we had a problem with and tried to come to a peaceful agreement,” Upshaw states. Fast forward 40 years, an elder himself now, Upshaw wears the badge of the streets.
A peacemaker or violence interrupter, his job is to de-escalate situations before they happen or restore peace and safety in situations where violence has taken place – often a death. This involves a lot of negotiation and trust building between him and his team and the perpetrators and victims.
Resources are provided to all, such as trauma therapy and sanctuary for those needing to leave town. The goal is safe streets.
Sound like war? Well, it is – one battle at a time. Victim and shooter often look like brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles. This is what makes the work hard and emotionally trying for a violence interrupter working Oakland streets, Upshaw states.
A paycheck cannot put a value on services rendered while victims lie recovering at a Highland Hospital trauma unit or at home or elsewhere. Many times, Upshaw says he and his team show up and no one knows them, so why should they talk? He is not a policeman; however, police will ask him to talk to a group of youth before they step in to arrest them.
A peacemaker or violence interrupter, his job is to de-escalate situations before they happen or restore peace and safety in situations where violence has taken place – often a death.
Sometimes one is guilty by association, Upshaw states. This is what complicated matters for his sons who were present when the son of his good friend was killed.
His older son, 19, was present, yet the younger son, 17, was not, but both sons were charged with the homicide. Upshaw says, “I had to tell my son who wasn’t there to take the plea bargain to lessen the charge: first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.
“This really opened my eyes to what was going on with our youth.” The bereaved father states. Though it was their first time in trouble with the law, both youth were charged as adults. The case, started in 2004, concluded in 2015 with the men’s release.
Upshaw is home too. One could say that being home is something he does not take for granted, especially with a fourth strike. He says, “The judge told me that the next time I appear in his court to bring my pillow.” This was 11-12 years ago.
Upshaw has been walking the tightrope ever since. His life is a warning to youth whom he sees hanging out smoking marijuana in front of elementary schools or kids not paying attention to whose car they ride, to think again.
Not only does Upshaw work as a violence interrupter for Youth Alive! he has established Men of Influence so that he can respond to principals who ask him to speak to boys hanging out near their school grounds to leave. With “Influence” he can also respond to the many children he meets under 12 years old who have run away.
MOI also supports an adopt-a-family program during holiday seasons. With such a busy schedule, can you believe that this father of a 10-year-old angel also mentors a youth through OreMi?
Not only does Upshaw work as a violence interrupter for Youth Alive! he has established Men of Influence so that he can respond to principals who ask him to speak to boys hanging out near their school grounds to leave.
It is no wonder that Glen Upshaw is receiving the Oakland Citizen Humanitarian Award from Living Jazz at its annual musical tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., “In the Name of Love,” Sunday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m., at the Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive, in Oakland.
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 7 a.m. and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.