Like fellow Queens, N.Y., native, L.L. Cool J, Erica Ford has been here for years. She’s been in these streets. Always a standout, with gray tresses since she was in her 20s, Ford has long been at the intersection of hip-hop and activism. At turns playful and stern, like a drill sergeant, sis is serious about transforming the grip of violence that has marred her beloved Jamaica, Queens, neighborhood.
“I grew up in this community. And I saw my friends get killed in this community,” says Ford, founder, and CEO of Life Camp, Inc. “I saw them become addicted to crack in the crack era. I saw them go to jail for a very long time. I saw their children just get stuck on what it is that they were doing and move on without their parents and so that is why I am in this community doing this work because there’s no place better to start.”
The streets of Jamaica, N.Y., are rich in hip-hop folklore and a breeding ground for greatness (Onyx, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, Jam Master Jay); it’s also a place where gun violence has ripped neighborhoods and hearts apart. Between neatly manicured lawns and two-story homes, the bustling Beauty Supply and bulletproof Chinese takeout, sits Life Camp, a storefront on Sutphin that offers the community violence intervention and prevention services, yoga, computer classes and mentorship.
Ford and her team want to arrest the cycle of violence , and bring their ethos of peace as an anecdote, with the Peace Mobile, a state of the art RV that literally goes straight into those dark spaces and times, furnishing unconventional therapeutic services to people who don’t usually show up for support.
“There is no typical day on the Peace Mobile,” says Kheperah Kearse, associate director of Life Camp.
“We could be responding to a [shooting] and just our presence says that we’re here and present for peace and safety,” Kearse says. “We might be called to mitigate a beef and bring two people or opposing crews on the Peace Mobile and put one in one area and one in the other so we can help to resolve the conflict because this becomes a neutral space or neutral territory, or, if we’re pulling up at a public event we might service the seniors or parents who’ve been impacted by stress and do a mindfulness meditation session on the bus. It really just depends.”
The work that Ford and Life Camp do is as much about holistic transformation as it is about dealing with the murder of a child or friend or parent. And, like everything else, it’s incumbent for us to show up for ourselves.
“We have to change the narrative,” says Ford. “We have to raise the voice of the people who are impacted by violence. And us, who are in those communities, we have to be led by love.”
Watch the video above.