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The Problem:
Understanding the Issues

Gideon’s Army is first and foremost looking to address the surge in violence between 14-25 year-olds in the North Nashville and Casey communities.  According to the office of the Mayor, there have been over 16,000 incidents of violence involving Nashville youth ages 25 and under in the last six years. This year, as of October, 21 youth have been killed as Nashville leads like cities in youth homicides.  Nashville traditionally had lower episodes of youth violence and homicides, but there was a surge in 2015 with a total of 2,768 violent incidents; 39 of those cases were youth homicides.  A total of 78 people were killed that year, making young people 50% of all murder victims in the city.  Youth were not only harmed by being casualties of violence, 55% of those who committed the murders were also youth, ages 25 or younger.


When we assess what youth were killed, we found that black boys were the primary victims (64%).  In 2017 the same rings true, and though there was a slight reduction in youth violence, it was only by 6%.  

In 2016, in the Nashville Youth Violence Summit Report to the Mayor, it is reported that violence is concentrated heavily in the North Nashville area: “Violence continues to be clustered in the most impoverished and segregated neighborhoods in Nashville…  Three of the 35 council districts in Nashville each had over 1,000 violent incidents. These are districts 2 (1,195), 19 (1,732) and 21 (1,262), which collectively make up North Nashville and account for 25% of the 16,955 incidents.”  Looking at MNPD density maps for January to December 2016, assessed 9 months after the youth violence summit report was released, we can also see that the Casey Homes are neck and neck on the homicide map with the University Courts area following closely behind, all areas currently heavily populated by African-Americans, and all being high poverty food, transportation, and job deserts where students are heavily disciplined and pushed out of their schools.

School push out is a major issue in Nashville public schools.  In Nashville, black children are targeted most fiercely and funneled into the system.  When looking at suspension rates of black students, 9% elementary, 26% secondary and 30% male secondary students were suspended as compared to 2%, 18%, and 21% for latinix students.  Suspension of white students in Metro Nashville public schools was 3% elementary, 12% secondary, and 15% male secondary.  


Youth and families who are exposed to violence not only often become the perpetuators of violence, they experience education, family, economic, social capital, and health and safety break downs personally, in their families, and communities.    


In our focus North Nashville cluster, Pearl Cohn High School has one of the highest suspension rates among all students in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  In fact, three other North Nashville schools, John Early Middle School, Moses McKissak Middle, and Rocketship Nashville Elementary (Charter School) join Pearl Cohn, two of those schools have some of the highest suspension rates among black students in MNPS schools.

Research has shown that school push out is a major factor leading youth to be exposed to community violence and is also one of the greatest determinants for students entering the justice system. 


Suspending students just once triples the likelihood they will end up in the juvenile justice system, and doubles the chance they will drop out. Research further maintains that about 75% of America’s state prison inmates, almost 59% of federal inmates, and 69% of jail inmates did not complete high school.  School push out also increases youth exposure to violence and, according to epidemiologists, violence spreads in the same pattern as disease and exposure to violence often leads to the perpetuation of violence.   This is why community and schools are at the heart of our model.  

Youth and families who are exposed to violence not only often become the perpetuators of violence, they experience education, family, economic, social capital, and health and safety break downs personally, in their families, and communities.    

Why the name Gideon’s Army

One day, Gideon was minding his business threshing wheat in the field, collecting it for his people and hiding it from their enemy, an angel appeared to him with a message that God had called him to save his people.  Angry and frustrated, Gideon challenged the angel, asking how God could allow so much devastation to happen to people God was supposed to love and protect.  The angel responded that the people needed to free themselves and that Gideon would be their leader.  Gideon told the angel: “I am poor.  I am no here,” we imagine him saying.  The angel said to Gideon that it didn’t matter, God still saw him as being mighty and capable of defeating an enemy that oppressed a nation.  It took Gideon some time to be convinced that he was capable and that this was the right thing to do, but when he was sure he moved to action, even though he was very afraid.

When it came time to finally fight for their freedom, Gideon thought he needed thousands of men to win because there were 135,000 enemy troops!!!!  But God told Gideon not to worry about numbers.  Don’t worry about those who are too afraid to fight. Send home those who are not wise. Gideon was left with 300 fighters.  But they were brave and they were wise.  

Gideon’s Army was ready for war.  They shared the same vision.  They trusted their collective wisdom.  They did not let the enormity of what they were facing turn them around.  Quietly, strategically and non-violently, Gideon’s Army went into battle with confidence and strength in the name of justice and they won.


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about us
We are Gideon’s Army.  A grassroots army of brave, wise, committed, (and really fun!) people who will not stop until the school-to-prison pipeline is dismantled.  We will not quit on our children.


Gideon’s Army was started in 2010 by former Metro Nashville Public School teacher, Rasheedat Fetuga, and one of her students, Michelrica Hughes, a teenager at Whites Creek High School, after Michelrica’s brother, Lamar Hughes, also one of Fetuga’s students, was killed due to gun violence.  

It was then that Fetuga understood how critical the issues youth, especially black youth, were facing.  Along with the problems of poor school culture, classroom management, and student misbehavior were also the forces of mass incarceration and criminalization, suspension and expulsions, juvenile arrests, intergenerational poverty, economic inequality, and the lack of anyone outside the already traumatized family who seemed to understand and be able to create a social safety net strong enough to keep our youth off the streets and on a path to success.

Starting Gideon’s Army and doing social justice work, Hughes and Fetuga agree, was their way to begin healing from the grief, to make sure no one ever forgot about Lamar and their love for him, and to work to make things right for other black girls and boys in Nashville who want more for their lives but can’t seem to find their way.  

Rest in peace Lamar, Tevin, Mikal, Kenny, Kris, Kevin, Weba, Heigo, Vastoria, and all of our children who have died to violence or taken their lives when life just seemed too hard to press forward.  And for those who are with us, no matter how “bad” people may say you are, no matter what your struggles, we are here for them and we won’t give up.


Understanding the power of deep listening, community engagement and building of public will, Gideon’s Army started in the spring of 2012, hosting city-wide listening sessions about school discipline, culture, student achievement and parental involvement.  Instead of learning solely about parental concerns around education, families' deep sharing occurred as parents and students told stories about painful experiences they also had with police and in the juvenile court system.  From what we learned during our listening sessions, we collectively agreed that Restorative Justice addressed most, if not all, of the concerns families had—bias-based policing, racial profiling, disproportionate minority confinement and school discipline and academic disparities.


 Gideon’s Army then began hosting community events, meeting with juvenile court candidates and potential systems and organization partners, introducing them to the philosophy of Restorative Justice, educating them on its key principles, and creatively exploring the possibilities of what education, policing and juvenile justice would look like if it were built on a foundation of Restorative Justice as opposed to discipline and justice that criminalizes youth.  

Excited about the possibilities, Restorative Justice was adopted in Metro Nashville Public Schools in 2014 and, upon winning her election that same year, also adopted by Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge, Sheila Calloway, with a commitment to push for the city-wide adoption of Restorative Justice.

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