Michael “Blue” Williams, CEO of Family Tree Entertainment, is used to calling the shots when managing the careers of successful rappers. But for his “Guns 4 Greatness” gun buyback program, the Bronx native plans to use his executive skills for the greater good.
This Saturday March 30, in partnership with the NYPD and numerous entities, Guns 4 Greatness will take place in a large church in East New York, Brooklyn — an area known for gun violence. The first public-private initiative of its kind in the city, the program promises cash and entertainment industry mentoring to those who relinquish firearms, in addition to tickets to concerts by popular acts like Beyoncé.
Initially nicknamed the “Beyoncé gun buyback” by the media, Williams stressed that Guns 4 Greatness is a serious matter while addressing press at the Wednesday announcement of his brain child. Standing at six-foot-five in a dapper suit with gleaming accessories, the entertainment veteran spoke sensitively about society’s need to reach troubled youth.
“These kids, you’ve got to give them stuff and keep them engaged,” Williams told theGrio from the tranquil hall of the Christian Cultural Center, where the buyback will take place. “I wanted to be able to offer kids incentives for doing the work. If you go and you sign up for mentoring, and you continue to do the work, I’m going to get you tickets to Beyoncé, I’m going to get you tickets to Summer Jam,” a popular annual concert produced by radio station Hot 97.
“I’m going get you things that keep you feeling like, ‘I’m doing the work, and I’m engaged, because things that matter to me are being given to me.’”
A need to appeal to the youth
Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson, a prominent partner in the program, felt just as strongly. Thompson, who is currently running for Brooklyn district attorney, said the entertainment-based incentives are key because, “most of the folks that come in with these guns have been older folks,” regarding previous programs.
Church drives removed roughly 7,000 firearms from New York City streets during a period between 2008 and 2011, city officials calculate. Still, African-Americans suffer from high rates of gun-related crime.
The greatest victims of gun violence in the city, African-Americans made up approximately 74 percent of shooting victims in 2011, according to the latest data. Almost 73 percent of known shooting suspects that year were also black.
“But the folks that are doing these shootings and killings are young people,” Thompson, a former federal prosecutor, explained in the church hall. “So we’ve got to try. These guns are just prevalent.”
Banking on the glamour of entertainment
Entertainment lawyer L. Londell McMillan represents clients such as Prince and Chaka Khan, so understands how the allure of show business can keep those who turn in guns committed to change.
“I think that if young people believe they have the opportunity to be mentored in a career that they love, that that trade off will lead to them making the choice to turn in a gun,” McMillan, another high-profile Guns 4 Greatness collaborator, asserted at the launch.
“There are no guarantees,” he assessed realistically. Yet, McMillan thinks added incentives such as mentoring are a worthy gamble.
“We’re hoping that people’s love for wanting to be in the entertainment industry will outweigh their need to feel they have to risk their lives,” he said.