Project SNUG: Fighting gun violence one person at a time

NEW YORK — Gun violence is shattering families all over America and community leaders are searching for solutions. One approach is to treat violence as a public health epidemic – and that model became the basis for Project SNUG, which is making a difference in Mount Vernon, New York.

At 38 years old, Jecoina Vinson hit the streets to teach young people what he learned the hard way.

“If I had somebody that could have gave my guidance and direction I would have never went to prison.”

“You believe that.”

“I know that.”

Vinson spent 16 years in prison for second-degree murder and gang assault. It was behind bars that he had a revelation.

“I said to myself like I’m gonna use my influence, who I am, my popularity to bring positive change.”

For three years, he has participated in a New York mentoring program called Project SNUG. It trains former prisoners to help break the cycle of violence by reaching out to high-risk youth like 13-year-old Kevin Gonzalez.

“I was hanging around with people who were in gangs and all that. It was crazy. It’s hard to get out of something you got into,” he said.

Project SNUG was modeled after Cure Violence, a Chicago program that’s been replicated across the country.

“You do it by personal relationships nothing more. Like showing them that you truly care,” said Vinson.

In Mount Vernon, Project SNUG operates in the neighborhood with the highest rate of gun violence. Within that one square mile, there were 16 shooting victims in 2016. So far this year, that number has dropped to four.

“And have you seen lives transform in front of your eyes.”

“Yes. Yes I have,” replied Vinson.

Gonzalez said thanks to his new role model he’s turned his life around and has his sights set on college and a bright future.