Blue Coats Spread Message of Non-Violence to Erie Students - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

Blue Coats Spread Message of Non-Violence to Erie Students

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Reports of gunfire and shootings often make headlines on the evening news.  Erie area residents who hear the frequent reports may feel helpless to stop the violence. A group of local men known as the Blue Coats is doing something about it. 

The group began ten years ago as "The Non-Violence Initiative" out of the Parade Street Community Center.  Pastor Robert Gaines of Abundant Life Ministries at East 8th and Parade Street had the vision to recruit and train men of faith for the job.  The number of volunteers is growing and the men committed to the mission have developed a partnership with Erie's Public Schools.

The group had blue jackets made with the words "Non-Violence Initiative" written in bold white letters across the back.  Students at Wayne school gave them their nickname, the Blue Coats.

Their blue coats and hoodies make them easy to spot outside Erie's Public Schools every day. They are building relationships with students in the morning, afternoon and at lunchtime outside of ten Erie elementary, middle and high schools.  Principals and students agree they are impacting school culture and individual lives. 

"I cannot underscore the impact, the positive impact that this program has had on our students here at Strong Vincent and on our school culture," said Principal Scherry Prater.  Prater said there are factions within her school, eastside, westside, but the Blue Coats seem to be able to give the students the opportunity to drop their differences at the door before they walk in the building and to help them resolve conflict in ways that school officials can't. "When we address it here at school, it's perceived as punitive," said Prater.  "When they do it in that manner, outside of school, it's perceived as proactive."

Some of the newer blue coats are former troubled kids who turned things around and  are motivated to keep younger kids on a good path. Divone Jones, who volunteers outside of Wayne School is one of the success stories.  As a student, he was in trouble 38 times in one school year before the Blue Coats message of non-violence got through.  "I could have probably been killed, been in jail somewhere, they just changed that around for me," said Jones. "They came in my life, helped me out, sat me in the office told me like this is right from wrong and said if you keep going this way you might not survive," added Jones.

Divone's brother, Josh Jones, is working to be part of the solution too.  He meets students outside of Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary. "I get so many kids that run up to me and ask me who I am and why am I here, I say I'm non-violent and I hope you be the same," said Josh.  "I want to be that person to tell them that it's going to be okay, that they don't have to pick up a gun...pick up a book.  Don't be violent, just do the right thing and coming to school is the only think that's going to get you on that right track."

Daryl Craig, known as Brother D, coordinates the Blue Coats effort. He said success is hard to measure but he believes the Blue Coat presence outside of schools and in the community has prevented many situations from escalating to trouble or violence.  "Because presence prevents," said brother D, and so you don't always know what you turned around."  Craig said the reports of gunfire and youth violence can cause discouragement to creep in, because they want to prevent it all.  "At the same time the results that we witnesses and have partaken of, the success stories always reel us back in." 

Blue Coat Anthony McGowan staffs the corner of East 23rd and Perry Street near McKinley Elementary, handing out dollars to students who show him that they earned an "A" on a school test or paper.  "It's not a job for me, it's a ministry...a ministry I feel like I was called to do, said McGowan."
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