The doors of the Christian Cultural Center in Canarsie, Brooklyn, will open Saturday but it won't be for church services. It's to host the first gun buyback program aimed at those most involved with and victimized by gun violence: teens and young men.
Michael "Blue" Williams has managed the careers of superstars like Outkast, Nas and Cee Lo Green. Now he's turning his skills in another direction to bring peace to the streets. Calling it "Guns for Greatness," the A-list music manager is urging men to pull up their pants, put down their guns and make a new life.
"I'm hoping that it shows them that you don't have to rap or play basketball, play a sport or commit crimes to get out of your community," Williams said. "That as someone said, your ZIP code doesn't decide your future."
Williams says he's using the appeal of hip hop to encourage youth at risk to come forward. The buyback is step one. Anyone who turns in a working gun will get a $200 gift card and face no criminal consequences, said Gregory Thomas, a law enforcement expert.
"Anybody who brings a gun in on Saturday will be doing it anonymously and will not then be followed by the NYPD, it's not that kind of program," said Thomas, the CEO of ATS Group. "We're actually piggy backing on an existing program the NYPD has that's been successful over the last few years."
Step 2 is connecting the person who turned in the weapon with a mentor. They'll be given a number to call and matched up with someone in a field that interests them, and could lead to a job. In this privately funded program, they'll also be eligible for rewards like concert and sports tickets.
"What we are trying to do is let people understand they can be great, they don't need a gun to be great, they should get the guns off the street," said Londell McMillan, the publisher Source magazine.
After Brooklyn, organizers plan to take the gun buyback program to the other boroughs and New Jersey.