Interrupted with hope

UPDATE: Tonight, February 14th, Frontline (on your local PBS station) is airing a special about ‘The Interrupters’. I hope you’ll watch it or record it to watch later.

One night, while driving in my car, I tuned into National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. Terry Gross was interviewing Steve James and Ameena Matthews about the documentary film titled “The Interrupters”.

Directed and photographed by Steve James, and produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Steve James, “the documentary tells the moving and surprising story of three dedicated individuals who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they themselves once employed. These “violence interrupters” (their job title) – who have credibility on the street because of their own personal histories – intervene in conflicts before the incidents explode into violence. Their work and their insights are informed by their own journeys, which, as each of them point out, defy easy characterization.” [The Interrupters’ Press Kit.]

Though I heard this particular radio program days ago, the story is in my heart and on my mind.

The film focuses on the works of three people within The Violence Interrupters Project, Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra. All three individuals are determined to protect their Chicago communities from the same kind of violence in which they once engaged.

Here is the trailer for the film The Interrupters:

Quite powerful, right?

I have a tendency to come across as an overly simplistic person. Who knows, perhaps I am overly simplistic. Still, my simplistic nature energizes me to the point that I believe – genuinely – I can make a difference. I’m not worried about the details. For once, I will not allow myself to over-think the action. I will just act.

Yes, well, sometimes when I’ve acted – I’ve hit the wall. Hard. Call me insane, because I will get right back up and try again.

We all have a gift. By that I mean, I believe all of us have experienced something negative in life, which enables us to relate to others who have experienced or are experiencing a similar negative thing.

Whether you have experienced violence, addiction, depression, sickness, etc., you are not alone. There are others out there, who have experienced something along the same lines.

The Violence Interrupters experienced violence. They witnessed death, drugs, pain and sorrow. In an effort to redeem themselves and save the lives of others, these incredible people are stepping up and interrupting their community. They literally walk into the middle of a fight and interrupt the battle.

I do not have the experience that comes from living in the inner-city. I am unable to relate to gangs, drugs and street violence.


This does not mean I am not able to interrupt. All of us have the ability to interrupt. All of us have the ability to be an Interrupter. You just need to step up, speak, listen and be transparent. Having walked in a pair of shoes similar to the person struggling is priceless. You are a valuable resource for them.

You can help, if only by listening.

You can help, if only to show the person the other side is attainable.

Will the person who is struggling be receptive to your help? Maybe not. But, how do you know, until you try? You don’t need to overtake the person, just relate to the person using your own similar experience.

Remember how you felt when you were caught up in your own private mess? How deep down inside, you wanted someone to see you, but you didn’t want to ask to be seen. You wanted someone to help you, but you didn’t want to ask for help.

You were scared, and the fear paralyzed you.

Plus, there were all the steps you would need to take to get better – make changes – get help – oh, so many steps; so many hoops to jump; oh, so very complicated. As the list of complications piled up in your mind, you started to shut down. Your energy was zapped before you had a chance to tap into it. If only ….

If only someone could relate. If only someone got it. If only someone could interrupt your spiral…

Someone needs you to interrupt. Do it. Don’t overtake – just relate.

Ameena Matthews interrupting.

I encourage you to explore the website for both The Interrupters, and the larger component to The Violence Interrupters Project, an anti-gang violence program in Chicago called CeaseFire.

23 thoughts on “Interrupted with hope

  1. Thank God for people like you. You are different in a very good way. I do think you get it…that we can make a difference and interrupt the “whatever” cycle, circle, etc.
    I remember attending a meeting for volunteers on a project. The leader arrogantly proceeded to say if you are here “to do good, to be a do gooder, we don’t want you and we don’t need you.” With that some folks left, walked out of the meeting. They did not stay. I stood up and speaking in Spanish explained that I felt I could identify with the individuals we were assisting at that time. You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody…least of all this arrogant individual…expected someone like me to stand up and speak out. When I did speak…he softened, listened and even welcomed the help of “those who stayed and were left in the room.” We have to stand up and when a voice inside of you, deep inside says “you can make a difference, you can”, you get up and speak and/or do. I hear you lady. Nice job!

    1. Thank you, Georgette. I’ll say the same to you: Thank God for people like you. Good for you for listening to your own voice and then using the voice. It really is that simple.
      Though yes – I realize, it gets complicated. (smile)

  2. The Interrupters is so powerful. Thank you for sharing this. As you know I just finished the book Unbroken. Even though these two stories are very different, the message is the same. violence breeds violence. It is not a solution. It’s infectious and perpetuates itself on down the line. When Louie Zamperini said enough. Instead of filling himself with hatred and vengeance, he was going to forgive the men who brutally held him captive for years. Then he released himself from it. Just like The Interrupters. It’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough.

    1. Jacqueline – CeaseFire, the larger picture to The Interrupters, was founded by an epidemiologist, Gary Slutkin. He believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases. He feels the treatment for violence should be similar: go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source.
      I find that concept amazing. I also love the fact that those once engaged in the violence are redeeming themselves through helping others. Awesome. I hope the film is promoted heavily – and I hope people are inspired to create their own group of “Interrupters” – it doesn’t just have to be about stopping violence.

  3. Lenore, that trailer was riveting and gave me goosebumps. Incredible. I was moved to tears where she says, “Do you want love? Do you deserve to be loved?” answer: YES! That is the key. That is the answer: love.

    I am simplistic too, but you know what? It really does boil down to simple things. Choose love, support, communication and reject fear, hate, violence. Love over fear. Choosing that can and will change a life and will move mountains.

    1. Glad you read the post and watched the trailer, Darla. This is one post I truly hope gets Freshly Pressed – just to get the word out there.
      Here’s to a simplistic view – because we don’t allow ourselves to get bogged down with Eeyore-type thoughts. We just do – and hopefully, it creates a ripple effect. And, as you said – it really does boil down to simple things… even if it means taking risks and making yourself vulnerable.

  4. There is no end to violence in a community unless the community brings it. I’ve been in policing for 26 years. The only long term success I see comes from us serving the community as a scarecrow, protecting what they plant. Scarecrows can’t sow the seed. Love seeing people rise up for their, our, kids.

    1. Oma, I love seeing these people rise up, partly because they once lived the life of crime. To me it is a win – win… They walked the walk, so they can relate and talk the talk. BUT, they changed – they made better choices and better decisions and changed their way of life. They are literally leading by example. We all have that ability. I truly hope this story goes viral and has a ripple effect. I know there are other organizations out there doing similar things – it is time these organizations made headlines.
      Thanks for visiting, Oma.

    1. I am glad you were inspired, Nancy. Can’t say as I get the credit though… I tip my hat to The Interrupters and other organizations like theirs. Here’s to interrupting, when folks need it the most!

    1. I though of your sister, when I ready your post, Judy. I mean, I though of the video of The Interrupters. I almost said something in my comment to you. I am glad you came over for a look-see. I hope your sister is inspired. Interrupting can be done in many ways – safely and effectively. Thanks for reading!

  5. Great post! I’m so thankful for all the people who took the time to “interrupt” me during my life… and I’m always on the lookout to do the same for others. Sometimes it takes being open and vulnerable about your own trials from the past but at the end when you know you’re helping somebody out who may be in the same place you once were, it’s such a wonderful thing. Thanks for the post. Be blessed!

  6. This is your best post so far, Lenore, and that’s saying something. You’re right when you say the problems are complex, and that’s probably what causes so many people to turn and run the other way. But the solutions to those problems can be simple — as simple as a smile, an extended hand, or a kind word. Anyone can do that. Thank you for this powerful reminder.

    1. Thanks, Charles. Your comments and compliments mean a great deal to me. I enjoy ‘seeing’ you around these here parts.
      I had hoped this post would go viral – if only to promote the movie. If you find it reaches your island, I hope you’ll try to catch it.
      In the meantime, here’s to interrupting where we can and making much needed changes. Cheers!

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