Swapping Guns for Greatness

Gun violence is one issue that has been taking up a whole lot of newspaper inches lately. The spate of mass shootings in the past few years have left the horrors of gun violence fresh in everybody’s mind; President Obama made the school shooting in Newton, Conneticut the crescendo of his inauguration speech. Everyone seems to have something to say about the issue, including some hip hop luminaries.

One incredible exmple is that of hip hop manager Michael ‘Blue’ Williams, who is taking real action starting in a Brooklyn community. Williams set up a  project called “Guns for Greatness”, a buyback scheme where in exchange for handing over weapons participants receive money and the opportunity to work with a mentor in a field they would like to get some experience in.

The pilot event was held last Saturday, March 30th. In a Brooklyn church. A large number of people turned up to exchange their weapons for cash, receiving $200 for handing in working assault weapons or handguns. By 4pm that day 115 weapons were taken off the streets. Although the NYPD have been behind different ‘cash for guns’ schemes in the past few years (and this new project has the support of NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly behind it), Williams felt that these schemes weren’t targeting the right audience. Williams has worked with Outkast and Nas and hopes to use his connections in the music industry to offer more incentive to young participants to take part in the project. The mentorship part of the scheme distinguishes it from other similar efforts, Williams says "I try to partner [the participants] up with a specific mentor in whatever it is that they want to be because that will help keep them engaged.”

Guns-For-Greatness-Buyback-Program-Will-Use-Concert-Tickets-Mentorships-As-Incentives-620x455For those who stick with the mentorship program for a few months he offers the added bonus of tickets to see big name stars like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. “If they do the necessary work, whatever it is, I want to reward them with tickets to concerts or events or maybe headphones, things of that nature."

The project came about after Williams and a few friends in the hip-hop world asked themselves “How do we take our influence and our credibility and start to try and retrain our culture?” In an interview with Hot 97, a popular NYC radio station, Williams focused on how the project can help those who may be going down the wrong path by offering them an alternative to engaging in gun violence. He hopes to expand the project, first across New York City, and then someday the whole country.

The Guns for Greatness website is pretty bare at the moment save for a countdown to the full launch of the fuller program, but it does feature the project’s memorable motto; “Eliminating guns, Inspiring Greatness”. In the words of Williams, "It's about galvanizing the Hip-Hop community to help and use our influence to make it happen."

Snoop Lion is joining the call to stop gun violence too, releasing an anti-gun anthem, “No Guns Allowed” with daughter Cori B, and Drake. The vid (below) for the song utilizes some of the chilling footage of the aftermath of gun violence to drive its anti-weapons message home.