COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A new community initiative is set to launch in Columbus, but it’s not run by any one person or organization. It’s running name is the “Columbus Empowerment Initiative.”

The program is based on – but not affiliated with – a similar group in Nebraska, the Omaha Empowerment Initiative. The Nebraska-based group, also known as Omaha 360, is “focused on Collaboration, Prevention, Intervention, Enforcement Support, Reentry and Community Engagement,” according to its webpage.

“What we’re working towards is creating a community-based collaborative,” said Reggie Lewis, a leader at Cure Violence, another local group dedicated to solving violence in the community.

Lewis was an attendee at the Columbus Empowerment Initiative’s first meeting, which was held on the morning of Oct. 24. According to Lewis, about 120 invitations were sent to community members, mostly by word of mouth.

Roughly 60 individuals showed up, including Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson, local philanthropists, businesspersons and other community leaders. Representatives of the Georgia Center Opportunity and Better Work Columbus were also in attendance.

“Violence, homicide in particular, is the worst thing that a human being can do to another person,” said Josh Crawford, director of criminal justice initiatives at the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

He continued, “By restoring public safety in a community with a high rate of violence, you’re really taking the first step towards making a more prosperous and flourishing community.”

According to research carried out by Crawford and his team, violent crime and homicides have been rising in Columbus since 2017. At the same time, the number of uniformed police officers per every 10,000 residents has decreased by 60% over the last decade, he said.

On a city level, the Georgia Center for Opportunity suggests building up the local police force, allocating more resources toward solving homicides, investing in victim services and more. On a state level, it recommends using cognitive-behavioral therapy programs with non-violent youth offenders and evaluating types of re-entry programs, particularly focused on developing programs specifically geared toward high-risk, gang-affiliate inmates.

The initiative’s initial meeting was closed to members of the media to create comfortability for the community members there, public relations coordinators for the initiative stated. A second meeting for the Columbus Empowerment Initiative on Jan. 30 will be open to all, they added.  

Lewis explained the decision. He said, “The idea was basically to create an environment where people could be themselves and speak and talk and have discussions without, you know, telling the world.”

An invitation to the group’s next meeting specifically targets those living in the 31901, 31906, 31907 and 31909 zip codes: all areas identified by the Georgia Center for Opportunity as high-crime regions within the city.

“Are you ready to join us?” The invitation asks, listing such qualifications as seeking a reduction in violent crime and wanting to be part of a community-driven solution to crime.

According to the initiative’s public relations coordinator, the goal is to get the invitations out across the city in schools, businesses and local organizations.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Declining public safety and increases in violence are not a predetermined or predestined conclusion,” said Crawford. He added, “A community that’s dealing with this right now doesn’t have to [be] five years from now, if you do the right things.”

The next meeting for the Columbus Empowerment Initiative will be held on Jan. 30, 2024 at the Columbus Public Library, starting at 10 a.m.