Advocates for Boston youths work together to weave safety net to prevent violence

Growing up in Dorchester, the son of a single mother from Cape Verde, Casimiro Cabral says he could have wound up in all kinds of trouble.

Cabral endured experiences common to city youths. He grew up poor. He was bullied. He saw his older brother arrested for stealing a car and a friend’s brother shot dead on the street. He dropped out of high school with no job, only the ambition to be a dancer.

Today Cabral, 22, manages investments in State Street Corp.’s global services division and dances competitively in his free time. What made the difference between the criminal he could have been and the successful man he became instead?


Cabral says it was a network of mentors who saw his potential and pushed him.

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“That’s the only reason why I’m here today,” he said Wednesday at the fourth annual symposium of the Youth Violence Prevention Funder Learning Collaborative. “Positive youth development works. Education works. Long-term mentoring works. Performing arts and expression works. We need to fund these programs.”

Dozens of service providers and advocates for young people came together to praise networks like the one that supported Cabral and to discuss how collaborations among organizations can create a safety net.

They met in an elegant 36th-floor conference room in the State Street Financial Center, far removed from the two-mile swath around Blue Hill Avenue where, the collaborative says, 78 percent of Boston’s youth violence occurs. But the discussion never strayed far from that dangerous corridor and the needs of the young people who live — and too often die — within its gritty confines.

Edward M. Powell, executive director of StreetSafe Boston, said the youths his staff works with have been damaged by violent environments. “They want to get out, but they don’t know how to get out,” he said.


The State Street Foundation launched the collaborative in 2009 to increase and better coordinate funding by uniting public and private donors with service providers and community members. Organizations in the collaborative approach youth violence as a public health issue and emphasize prevention. They work together to maximize impact, reduce duplication of efforts, and identify gaps where services are needed.

Boston was one of six cities selected in 2010 for President Obama’s National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which encourages local partnerships to combat violent crime. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said the members view the collaborative as an example of a successful program.

“This is the envy of the five other communities that we work with,” Ferrer said.

Joe Sierra was one of several young men who stood up to say they were ready to leave violence behind. Sierra, 24, said he had been a gang member and drug dealer who wound up behind bars.

Things changed about a year ago, when Sierra was released from prison, met a street worker, and got involved with intervention programs including StreetSafe, YouthConnect, InnerCity Weightlifting, Youth Options Unlimited, and Diamond Educators Mentoring.


“I’m a better man today,” Sierra said. “I’ll tell the next person [I meet that if] he wants to change his life, these people really help you. You just got to step up and be a man and meet them halfway.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at