On Friday at noon, on the steps outside the Hayti Heritage Center, a group of Black leaders, ministers, and mentors in Durham assembled for a call to action in the movement to end gun violence in Durham.

A new initiative, One Thousand Black Men, or OneKBM, seeks “to generate and facilitate resources for mentoring groups, organizations, and economic ecosystems throughout Durham,” according to a press release from the group. OneKBM “is calling on the city, county and community to devise an immediate plan of action to address gun violence in the city,” the release continues. 

Leonardo Williams, one of the founders of OneKBM and a candidate for the Durham City Council Ward III seat, told the INDY that Durham is at a breaking point and he’s finding it hard to focus on anything other than the wave of shootings that are killing young Black men in Durham and seeing them arrested and incarcerated, and how to stop it. 

“It feels disingenuous to talk about any other issues outside of this,” Williams says. 

Williams co-owns Zweli’s Kitchen with his wife, Zweli Williams. The couple hires young, recently incarcerated residents to staff the restaurant and Williams says he works to mentor the young men to help keep them from falling back into the lifestyles that saw them get locked up. 

Williams is honest about the difficulties of that work. He lost a former staffer recently to a shooting. 

“When I say he was hard core into gangs, he was literally in the gangs,” Williams says. “His job overnight was selling drugs and running and managing people, and I told him, ‘You know, you are safe here, you just have to choose. You just need to get a job where they pay you a living wage, health care for you and your kid … you have to want to do better. Or you can continue that but you cannot stay here if you do.’ He said he wanted to do better. A week later he was shot. That really hurts my heart because I felt like we finally had a breakthrough.”

Along with the call to the city and county governments, and the community, to devise an emergency action plan to address the gun violence, Williams says he wants OneKBM to be a resource for men from all of the disparate groups in the city—organizations, ministries, Durham Public Schools—who are working in their own ways to mentor Durham’s boys and young men. 

“Everybody has to offer up something,” Williams says. “Time. Money. Resources. My hope, through our action plan that we are building out, is to ensure that any young man of color who graduates from school in Durham has a direct pipeline to college, work, military, something of an advancement. My goal is to support the organizations in this community that are doing this type of work. Every young man should have access to a suit. A tie. They should have access to a job and my goal is to make sure that those resources are accessible.”

Learn more about the movement or join at OneKBM’s website

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