Interview with Will Wallace: Building a Beautiful Future Together
Will, although you’ve worked alongside NP for about 2 years now, you recently joined NP U.S. as Director of Community Peace Building. One of the biggest parts of your role right now is working with the Community Peace Builders in Minneapolis, MN. As their mentor, how have you witnessed a transformation in the Community Peace Builders?
Will: Well, let me just say, I’m humbled to be able to share my 25 plus years of experience working in the community with at-risk youth. And now, I’ve got the opportunity to continue to work with the Community Peace Builders—the brothers—to be able to teach them what nonviolence looks like in action.
The brothers had this opportunity to embrace change in a way where they can change their narrative. Now it is up to them to just look and say instead of me sitting in the back of a police car, I'm sitting in front of the police chief.
You know, when the brothers and I worked together at Emerge, the whole thing we talked was just nonviolence. You know, stop the violence, stop the violence. But then, we connected with NP two years ago. We have a more language now—before, we didn’t have the word “de-escalation,” but now? Now, we are promoting de-escalation in public safety meetings where we meet with the Chief of Police, the Mayor, the City Councilmen, and more.
The Community Peace Builders provide direct protection at community events and trainings for community members. But they also advocate for change in their community and by meeting with public officials. Can you help pull back the curtain on what “advocacy” means? What does that look like?
Will: One part of it is that it’s giving our officials and leaders an opportunity to hear these young people recognize their strengths. The Community Peace Builders are saying “we knew we used to be a part of the problem, but now we are working to be a part of the solution. We now are able to go into some of our communities that we know something about and try to stop the violence.”
It is a tremendous feeling just to watch these young brothers go into these public safety meetings with communities and officials. They get up there and talk about de-escalation trainings, Unarmed Civilian Protection, what CLARA active listening looks like, what a “window of tolerance” means and how they use these tools and teach these tools to keep each other safe.
So I’m thrilled when I’m in the room, watching these young brothers. I just thank God above because these young people are able to do this and that they train even younger people underneath them.
Another part of it is changing narratives. I just think your tongue is your worst enemy. They got this thing where they say, 'Oh, this summer is going to be hot, there's gonna be a lot of killing.' Well, we need to erase that.
But also, we talk a lot on our team about how you have to be consistent. When you’re talking about changing policies and procedures, changing narratives—this is not a one week or two weeks and you just let it go. You’ve got to be consistent, even consistently bringing up the term “Unarmed Civilian Protection,” and talking about what it means in order to bring greater awareness.
I try to tell these brothers that 99% just talk about it, and 1% do it. So, are you that 99% or are you that 1%?
And what exactly is that goal that we are headed towards? What does a safe community mean to you?
Will: A safe community to me is when I’m able to enjoy myself with my neighbors without feeling harm. Not feeling that there’s going to be gunshots while we’re having a gathering. Safety is when my daughter or granddaughter can walk down the street knowing that the community has her back if she has to go to the store or if she has to go to school. When I’m comfortable that my community will look out for her, you know, a community that looks out for each other. And hold people accountable when someone violates our safety in our community—but accountability by the people. That’s safety to me.
We need to continue the conversations to say what does that look like, but I like the model of the Community Peace Builders. When the brothers worked on protecting the school ground, protecting the students, protecting the teachers. When the brothers teamed up with NP to be able to protect the community, protect the voters during the 2020 elections. And when they protected the protesters downtown. These are some of the elements that I love working on and seeing in action.
What keeps you going? What gives you hope about your future with the Community Peace Builders?
Will: It’s about investing in and building a beautiful future together. Together, we can make a better world. Together, we can change policies and procedures. Together, we can change the narrative. If we can change this world together, man that’s so beautiful.
I sum it up with this: my grandma always told me that it’s about a recipe. When you go in the kitchen, you might be trying to master grandma’s recipe, but she says you gotta add yourself to your flavor. It’s exactly like that—the Community Peace Builders are taking my recipe of community safety, but they’re adding a little bit of themselves to make it even better, to taste better.
That’s why I do this, it’s like waking up the sleeping giant. There’s no magic to it, it’s about love and passion. It's not about fear or force, I do this because of love and passion. I want to see people excel, I want to see people be successful, I want to see people leave behind legacies. I want to see people begin to have generational wealth, and I want to see young people break their generational curse of them going to jail. I mean, this is why I do this.
We are together in this—we are making changes. Not just in Minnesota, not just in New York, but around the world. This is no coincidence, this is meant to be.
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Will Wallace is a 25+ year veteran of youth and community work in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He has been a voice for engagement between police and community during times of crisis, such as the police shooting of Mr. Jamar Clark. His unique expertise in working with youth who have been raised in situations of violence and trauma and have then become involved with gangs and/or the justice system. This experience was foundational to the development and launch of the North 4 Program in 2010 and to its successful operation over several years.