Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Interview with Marlon Peterson

Project Director Amy Ellenbogen interviewed outgoing Mediation Center staff about their experiences at the Center and with the work they've done. Marlon Peterson worked at the Mediation Center first as a Violence Interrupter, then as Program Coordinator for Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets and then as the Associate Project Director.

Marlon at Arts to End Violence Gallery with YO S.O.S. participants

Amy Ellenbogen: What were your first impressions of the Mediation Center?

Marlon Peterson: What comes to mind is, “These people seem like a good fit for me." Also, I felt really welcomed from the moment of my first interview with Derick Scott. I remember him saying to me during the interview something like, "I see a lot in you." So, my impression was that of care.

Amy Ellenbogen: Oh, that is nice. I know that at our volunteer appreciation ceremony recently a volunteer mentioned the same thing.   Are there things that you think the Mediation Center as an organization does to cultivate caring?

Marlon Peterson: Yes, no doubt. People here care for people, and a lot of time and energy is put into that. It's familial here and that encourages a sort of internal support system that makes sure everyone is okay beyond work responsibilities. People say hi here and really care to hear how you are doing or how your weekend was. It's not perfunctory.

Amy Ellenbogen: Hmm. Well, I'm curious. Do you think that all it takes is saying "Hi" and “How was your weekend?”

Marlon Peterson: In some ways, yes. This work and world is really hard at times. Many of the people here and this community are into this work because life has had really tough lessons to teach them. Life doesn't always care about how you are doing or how you are feeling, it just happens to you. And many of us are accustomed to the frigid temperatures of the world. So, anytime people genuinely acknowledge your presence, especially when they don't have to, it goes a long way. For instance, people really acknowledge birthdays here as an important thing.  This is the first place I ever had anything like a birthday cake.


Amy Ellenbogen: Wow. That is cool. I know that is the same for several other staff members and participants.

Amy Ellenbogen: You had three positions here at the Mediation Center. What are some of your most memorable moments in each of your positions?

Marlon Peterson: As a VI, it had to be the night we all went into the "Carter" on Sterling and Rochester in the narrow stairwell with about 8-10 teens all high and ice grilling us. As a team of OW's and VI’s we all sprang into action, had each other’s backs without having to say anything, and ultimately built a good relationship with a group of boys that probably trusted few people--even themselves.

With YO SOS, I think it was at the last graduation.  Sometimes as leaders things drop off after you leave. So to see more kids finish YO SOS and to see Ruby-Beth lead them and Lizzie and Pete without my physical presence was heartwarming because it showed that the work I did there was beyond myself, but I was able to see my passion passed along. That's really important to me.

Amy Ellenbogen: Hmm. I totally know what you mean!

Marlon Peterson: As an AD, I'd say the Kingston Avenue Festival. That event was a brainchild of mine and I was able to see so many people, staff, volunteers, and especially those kids dancing on the stage on that rainy and cool Saturday afternoon. Those moments are priceless.

Amy Ellenbogen: Yes! The Kingston Avenue Festival was really, really fun.

Amy Ellenbogen: What do you think is the most valuable lesson you learned during your time here?

Marlon Peterson: That I need to eat, and pay attention to my own well-being. I also learned how good feels to matter. That comes from spending 1/3 of my life being forced to believe that I did not matter.

Amy Ellenbogen: What were the kinds of things you experienced that helped you know you are important and matter?

Marlon Peterson: Definitely working with YO SOS. Those young people inspired me, and gave me credibility. They depended on me, and that was important. I also appreciated the staff who looked to me for answers and advice. I always keep in mind that I was only ten months out of prison when I came to CHCMC, and they trusted me. Coming from a place where authority never trusts you no matter what you do, that was significant for me. 

Amy Ellenbogen: You spent 10 years incarcerated. What advice do you have for people who are currently incarcerated but want to work in nonprofit social justice work when they return home?
Marlon Peterson: I'd say that they should know the difference between nonprofit work and grassroots work. I'd also tell them to start pursuing their interests from in there by being a part of organizations in a substantive way. What you do inside, you will do outside. That truism held true for me. I would also say that they understand that people work is sacrificial work, and that creating contacts to volunteer with before release is essential.

Amy Ellenbogen: What are some of the difference between nonprofit and grassroots work that you think people should understand?

Marlon Peterson: The nonprofit sector does phenomenal people work, but with funding/funder and political limitations. I believe that a grassroots principle within non-profits is necessary. You always need a core that caters to the authentic voice of the people. Many times in the non-profit world we find ourselves trying to keep people employed which means going after money that doesn't necessarily fit your level of expertise, or doesn't substantively address an issue in a thoughtful way. The grassroots element does the work that the people need and not what the grant requires.

Amy Ellenbogen: Thanks Marlon.  Can you tell me a little bit about your new job?

Marlon Peterson: I am the Director of Community Relations at the Fortune Society, and I'm a part of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy. A huge chunk of my job is still anti-gun violence work. Fortune has licensed behavioral health clinicians on staff through its Better Living Center. Many of us in this work understand that there are high levels of untreated and unacknowledged trauma that exists around experience of gun violence. That understanding, however, is not recognized by many and we want to bring that awareness to the masses. We also want to treat those folks behind and in front of the gun, both parties in that trauma. In this role, I also get to reach out to community partners that do the violence interruption work on the ground level. Being mobile is one of the perks of my gig; I'm more than an office guy/paper pusher---I might have some attention issues. 


As part of the DRCPP, I get to advocate for and against policies that interrupt the unjust and unfair practices of the criminal justice system, particularly the prison system. I'm still figuring out what all of that means for me, but it should be exciting. 

Amy Ellenbogen:  Marlon, it has been a true privilege and a pleasure to work with you. You've brought a great deal of thoughtfulness, creativity, enthusiasm, and wisdom to the way we work. We will all miss your warm presence and positive energy in our daily work but are delighted to have you as an ally at Fortune Society. 

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