Aquil Basheer is a nationally known crisis-intervention specialist, educational consultant, and youth development expert who has worked for more than 40 years to reduce community violence.
Basheer is also the chief executive officer of the BUILD (Brotherhood Unified for Independent Leadership through Discipline) Youth Empowerment Academy, which operates conflict-resolution training, mentoring, and gang-violence deterrence and intervention programs in middle schools and community centers throughout Los Angeles County. He and his organization work daily with high-risk youth to develop their sense of self-responsibility, discipline, commitment, and self-esteem.
BUILD, which Basheer founded in the early 1990s, has helped thousands of children in more than 17 middle schools move forward while dealing with the negative influence and the violence of the streets where many of them reside. The program drills into these youth the motivation and the know-how to navigate in gang environments.
The biggest accomplishment that Basheer recalls of the organization is that it does successfully steer these young people away from violence, especially with the younger participants.
By targeting these children at a young age, approximately nine, the BUILD staff are able to be proactive in preventing many of these problems before they arise.
The biggest challenge BUILD has had to endure is the absence of any federal funding. "It limits what lengths we can go to, and it sometimes causes our consistency to lack. We do lose some kids, but we have an 80 percent retention rate. I just wish we were able to hold on to that other 20 percent."
The organization is currently funded by volunteers, donations and philanthropic organizations.
"I have some outstanding people committed to what we are doing. If people were doing this just for the money, it would never work. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate what these people do and definitely want to get them taken care of economically, but for what we are doing, money can't be the driving force."
Basheer believes that his organization truly does make a significant change in the lives of young people.
So far 20 youth have gone on to become firefighters, 11 have become police officers, three doctors, school teachers, and numerous others have come back and become intervention specialists.
Basheer identifies BUILD as just one arm of the bigger organization that started it all, the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute (PCITI) which consists of a 15-week training program for interventionists. The program provides these peacekeepers the opportunity to get professional training by doing internships, working with the fire department, and getting real hard-core street intervention skills. So far the program has brought peace to 91 warring neighborhoods, and has produced more than 275 intervention workers.
PCITI recently was adopted as a model for gang intervention by the Los Angeles City Council and branches of the program will soon be implemented in Texas and in Atlanta.
"It's important to me that people know that these programs are about more that just gang intervention. They are about community restoration and strive to deal with every aspect possible of community needs. If we see a need in a particular area, we develop a program to provide help in that area. So far we have developed the Feed the Need program and have fed more than 20,000 people. We have developed a mediation center for gang disputes. We've created the Second Chance program which focuses on job training and development, and we created the first all-female intervention team which will have their graduation next month."
Basheer is involved in so many circles in the community because he feels that "intervention is just a band-aid." He believes you must deal with all of the issues that are plaguing a community to truly implement change.
On Oct. 19, the California Wellness Foundation will honor Aquil Basheer at its 18th annual California Peace Prize ceremony with a $25,000 cash award in recognition of his efforts to prevent violence and promote peace.
"I really respect the California Wellness Foundation and truly appreciate the award because it really reflects what is happening in the community. They have assisted us on many fronts, so it's really like receiving a double award. They really stand by what they say and we are humbled by this recognition. The award is really a validation for our efforts. Stay true to that which you stand for, and others will recognize."
For more information on Aquil Basheer and his many projects visit www.maximumforceenterprises.com.