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Celebrating 10 Years of National Network for Safe Communities

In accepting the organization’s Founder’s Award, Jeremy Travis pays tribute to long-time professional life-journey partner’ David Kennedy.

Jeremy Travis accepts the Founder's Award at John Jay College.

Jeremy Travis, Arnold Ventures’ executive vice president of Criminal Justice, this month accepted the Founder’s Award from the National Network for Safe Communities, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its founding at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. 

His acceptance speech paid tribute to his long-time professional life-journey partner” David Kennedy, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay and the director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay. Read his speech below.

It’s a special honor — and a profoundly meaningful moment — for me to be here with you, back home at John Jay College, at a conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of the National Network for Safe Communities, accepting this Founder’s Award from my good friend, long-time professional life-journey partner, fellow Brooklynite, and inspirational thought leader, David Kennedy.

David and I met in 1994, now 25 years ago. Those of you who read Don’t Shoot” or have absorbed some of the National Network folklore probably know the story. David was at the Kennedy School at Harvard. I was director of the National Institute of Justice. NIJ had just received a substantial amount of funding to support research as part of the policing strategy of the 1994 Crime Act. In traditional fashion, NIJ had released an RFP looking for the best research proposals. David and a team at Harvard submitted a proposal that did not clear the peer review hurdle at NIJ. It was my practice to ask my NIJ staff to let me know if there were interesting proposals that did not pass peer review but might warrant our taking a second look. The Harvard proposal was sent to me, and I quickly said, This is worth taking a chance.’ There was something about the honest search for effective responses to violence – rather than a rigid test of an intervention – that I found refreshing. We funded the project, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. From the Boston Gun Project to the good news shared by cities represented at this conference, we can safely say this work has transformed our thinking about how to respond to violence. 

Now, a quarter century later, I hope that David looks back on the journey he has traveled and realizes that he has changed the country. At times single-handedly, at times putting his travel and hotel expenses on his credit card because he had no funding, at times standing up to the ridicule and skepticism of peers, government officials, academics and funders, but always knowing in his heart that the lessons he took from his work in communities were true and good, David has persevered. Always living with the gnawing realization that the work he championed could save lives, and that the slow adoption of this work meant that lives were lost needlessly, David has been able to find the inner strength to keep going. How many of us have that fortitude?

Jeremy Travis, left, with David Kennedy.

Along the way, David has gathered an ever growing set of fellow travelers, others who believe that the unacceptable levels of violence can be reduced without using the oppressive powers of the criminal justice system and that community strength would always be the guarantor of safety. Along the way, this work has expanded beyond violence prevention to drug market intervention, from working mostly with police to an exciting portfolio on reconciliation and racial justice, from violence in public spaces to violence in the home, from the cities of America to communities around the world. What a great story. All of you have contributed to this modern affirmation of the power of ideas.

Fifteen years ago, soon after I had been named the fourth president of John Jay College, I called David and asked him whether he would like to come to John Jay and join the faculty. I said that if he was inclined to say yes, he should write a concept paper demonstrating what he would like to do at John Jay. That concept paper — also part of the National Network folklore — in essence laid out the architecture of the National Network we are celebrating today. (Yes, the name has changed, but the concept is the same.) My hope was that John Jay would provide David — and eventually a team — a platform, an academic home, a connection with New York and the students of New York City, and a place to incubate new ideas and develop new research. As is evident at this 10th anniversary of the National Network, that hope has been realized, and for that I congratulate all of you.

Thank you for this honor. Thank you for the important work you are doing. On our panel this morning, Fatima Muhammed said this work now constitutes a movement. It’s hard to imagine one that is more important. So I thank you for continuing to be pioneers in this movement. I thank for being patriots who are helping our country find a path forward to creating a network — let’s call it a national network — of communities that are healthy, safe and prosperous, where justice is the shared experience.