Page 43

ald first enrolled at Pulaski Tech in 2009, he said, he was “on the wrong side of the law.” Ten years later, he’s finishing up a double major in psychology and criminal justice at UA Little Rock and plans to pursue his doctorate. “It’s just, like, paying it forward, so to speak. … If I had had a Big Homie behind me when I was their age, I would have been a college graduate, Ph.D., straight and narrow. But I didn’t,” Fitzgerald said. Moody sees the Big Homies as a team of first responders. “They might be out in the neighborhood talking to somebody, or they broke up a fight, or they took somebody to school, took somebody to GED [classes],” he said. “It’s just on-call, 24/7.” They reach out to parents, teachers, parole officers and others. Most of all, they’re simply there for kids, emotionally and materially. They often connect young people with job opportunities, aided by the deep network of community contacts Moody and Montgomery have cultivated over the years. Big Homies are paid a stipend of about $500 a month, Moody said. At one time, the program received a small grant from the city, but funding now comes entirely from individuals who believe in the concept. Moody prefers it that way. Decades of working with big organizations have left him weary of the constraints that come with grants. “I don’t really fit into the programs, because that wears me out. … They can’t spend money unless you jump through hoops,” he said. It’s an unconventional structure, but Moody says the urgency of the problem demands creative thinking. “At some point, the dying has to trump some stuff,” he said. His goal now is to secure buy-in from others. “Folks who are … sitting at home, saying, ‘It’s too much, it’s overwhelming’ ... you can partner with somebody who’s willing to go places you’re not willing to go and support what they do,” he said. “The big picture is a Big Homie on every corner, and he’s backed by 50 or 100 people that believe in him, and every time he goes out and tries to fix a problem, he’s got a community of support behind him.” Big Homies provide an invaluable service, Moody argues, and he wants Little Rock residents to conceive of the project as such. “I want them to think in terms of buying a cup of coffee or getting the grass cut or hiring a plumber,” he said, rather than making a charitable donation. “Take David, for example,” he said. “He’ll spend the day making minimum wage doing demolition work, which, I’m sure that’s valuable to somebody — tearing down buildings. But by the same token, if you could take that eight hours and put him on the block where he knows all these people? He knows who the people are who are breaking in houses in the community. He could say, ‘Hey man, come spend some time with me.’ Is that worth $8 an hour? If it could keep your house from getting broken into, I’d imagine [so].” — Benjamin Hardy

BRIAN CHILSON

F

or 25 years, Kareem Moody has been steering young people in Little Rock away from violence and crime. He did gang intervention work for Little Rock city government in the ’90s; spent a decade as program director at P.A.R.K. (Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids), a Southwest Little Rock nonprofit focused on after-school education; and ran a program for at-risk students at Pulaski Technical College. In 2013, then-FBI Director James Comey recognized Moody’s two decades of service with a Director’s Community Leadership Award. But when Moody looks at the city today, he still sees an emergency in progress. Though his efforts may have changed hundreds of young lives, he’s seen countless others lost to the prison system or murdered. Now, he believes he’s found a solution. “Everybody knows that there’s a problem, but nobody knows what to do,” he said recently. “They’re afraid of it. But to me, I’m seeing it clearer and clearer.” Moody, 46, calls his vision “The Big Homie Project.” With the help of longtime fellow activist Marcus Montgomery, he’s assembled a small, trusted cadre of Little Rock natives with deep roots in those neighborhoods hit hardest by poverty, neglect and crime. The effort began evolving about two years ago, an outgrowth of the two men’s work with adult students at Pulaski Tech. Like other intervention programs, the goal of the Big Homie Project is to reach kids who are slipping through the cracks. The difference is in the interventionists. The “Big Homies” recruited by Moody aren’t white-collar professionals with backgrounds in counseling. They’re “skilled street specialists,” as Moody describes them, who are uniquely able to guide young people away from making deadly mistakes. Many have had their own encounters with the criminal justice system at some point in the past; all have had friends, neighbors and family fall victim to gun violence. “A Big Homie is not a social worker. He doesn’t have a degree. He just has a heart for it,” Moody said. “The kid is right there in his neighborhood … it might be his nephew. It might be his son. They might be the children of friends or family who are incarcerated or dead. … So it just makes sense that he would plug in.” David Patrick, 45, is one of the five men who form the core of the program, each of whom typically works with five to 10 youths. “I feel the uniqueness of our project is that we’ve been there,” Patrick said. We grew up in that same environment. We went to bed hungry, so we know the pressures that they’re under. We know the hurdles that they gotta jump.” Armaad Fitzgerald, 38, another Big Homie, first met Moody and Montgomery through Pulaski Tech’s Network for Student Success, a U.S. Department of Education-funded program aimed at keeping at-risk African-American men in college. Moody was the director of the program from 2009 to 2016. When Fitzger-

KAREEM MOODY: THE BIG HOMIE PROJECT

ARKANSASTIMES.COM

MAY 2019 43

Profile for Arkansas Times

Arkansas Times | May 2019  

New Look for Pettaway KOKY KEEPS SPEAKING | DRIVING THE TALIMENA BYWAY | BIG IDEAS 2019

Arkansas Times | May 2019  

New Look for Pettaway KOKY KEEPS SPEAKING | DRIVING THE TALIMENA BYWAY | BIG IDEAS 2019