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Leon Ford, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert launch foundation to address gun violence

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Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Leon Ford shakes the hand of Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert at a press conference launching The Hear Foundation.

If ever there was an odd couple in Pittsburgh, Leon Ford and Scott Schubert would be it. Ford is an activist and survivor of a 2012 shooting by a Pittsburgh police officer. Schubert is the outgoing chief of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, though he was not the chief at the time of Ford’s shooting.

Now the pair are working together to confront gun violence with the launch of The Hear Foundation. The nonprofit will also support trauma-healing in communities and workforce development designed to pull people out of the cycle of violence.

“This is the proof of what happens when two people who probably shouldn’t be friends come together to make that difference,” Schubert, who will leave his post as chief next month, said at a press conference Wednesday. “For me to see Leon as a human being and him to look at me as not my badge or my patch, but he sees Scott Schubert.”

The pair remarked on the genesis of their unlikely friendship Wednesday. Ford was vocally critical of former Mayor Bill Peduto and other city leaders, including Schubert, during racial justice protests throughout the summer of 2020.

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The two met for the first time through a shared connection, and Ford was initially against it.

“I had to pray on [it],” he said. But after those first talks with Schubert and other officers, he realized they shared similar goals. “A lot of them want the same things that activists want,” he said. “It’s just the language is different.”

Ford acknowledged that some activists may criticize his decision to work with police on the issue of gun violence.

“It takes a lot of healing personally and privately to get to where I am…I do believe in reform. But I also recognize that it takes real relationships” to make change, he said.

Ford hopes the Hear Foundation can be a platform for conversations about community healing and finding solutions.

After nearly two years of talks between Ford and Schubert, the foundation launches with a 39-member board of directors, which includes leaders in government, courts and police but also a who’s who of community group leaders, mental health professionals and business owners.

The Hear Foundation’s programs will center on the importance of healing from the trauma of violence, according to Ford. He credits years of therapy for his ability to work with police and move forward with his life after being shot.

Former Google executive Kamal Nigam will be the foundation’s executive director. “Many individuals and groups in our community are working hard to find solutions,” he said. “But they are too often working in isolation or lacking the resources, coordination and support to affect widespread change and healing.”

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Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Maurita Bryant, board member and former assistant police chief of the Allegheny County Police Department, speaks at a press conference launching The Hear Foundation.

A goal of the nonprofit will be to intervene in the lives of young people who have experienced gun violence in their community.

“It should not be normal for our young men and women to feel that if they want to be respected or protected that they have to carry a gun,” said Maurita Bryant board member and retired assistant superintendent of the Allegheny County Police Department. “We’ve got to change that mindset.”

She noted that officers are also traumatized by gun violence and crime scenes.

The foundation will begin convening meetings between police departments and community members interested in initiatives that promote healing and workforce development. The Hear Foundation’s inaugural grants are targeted toward youth programming.

The first grant will fund three youth camps: Voices Against Violence in the South Hills, Hope for Tomorrow in the West End and Youth Enrichment Services in East Liberty. Pittsburgh police and mental health experts will visit campers to help develop support systems and coping skills.

Another program will hire five Perry High School students over the summer to develop a school-wide plan to create after-school safe passages for their fellow students and learn about police-community relations with Pittsburgh police officers. The students will also help recruit other students to become “safety ambassadors” for the school.

A third grant issued this summer will support 15 summer workshops at the Center for Victims to train 150 community leaders about the science and impact of trauma. The Center for Victims will educate attendees about how violence, chronic adversity, toxic stress and social inequities impact children, adults and families.

A $75,000 award from the national Heal America movement will support the programs. Other support for the foundation will come from the Buhl Foundation, the Forbes Funds, the Elsie H. Hillman Foundation, Jones Day and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Mayor Ed Gainey, who recently announced a “Pittsburgh Plan for Peace” to tackle violent crime, said the collaboration at the center of the Hear Foundation is proof that working together is the path to safety in the city.

“It’s not just government, it’s not just community. It’s media, it’s foundations, it’s corporations,” he said. “It’s everybody understanding that if we are going to defeat this cycle of violence we can only do it together.”

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.