Glen Upshaw received the Humanitarian Award from Living Jazz, Inc. at its annual musical tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., “In the Name of Love,” last Sunday evening at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland.
Coming of age in the 1960s was a trying time for young African American men whose taste of power made it hard to relinquish their dreams of equality and true democracy shortly thereafter in the ‘70s during the Reagan years with the war on Black people, disguised as a war on drugs.
Nonetheless, Upshaw did not let fear mitigate or guide his behavior. He finished high school and respected the lives of other Black men in the community, young and brash like himself, even when he disagreed.
It was a time, he recalls in a recent conversation, when Black life was precious, and elders showed by example that you do not criminalize an entire community based on the actions of one person.
“We’d talk to the person we had a problem with and tried to come to a peaceful agreement.” Upshaw said.
Fast forward 40 years, now an elder himself, Upshaw wears the badge of the streets. A peacemaker or violence interrupter for Youth Alive!, his job is to deescalate situations before they happen or restore peace and safety in situations where violence has taken place—often a death.
This involves a lot of negotiation and trust building between himself and his team and the perpetrators and victims. Resources are provided
to all, such as trauma therapy and sanctuary for those needing to leave town.
The goal is safe streets.
Sound like war? Well it is one battle at a time. Victim and shooter often look like brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles. This is what make the work hard and emotionally trying for a violence interrupter working Oakland streets, Upshaw says.
A paycheck cannot put a value on services rendered while victims lie recovering at a Highland Hospital trauma unit or at home or elsewhere. Many times, Upshaw says he and his team show up and no one knows them, so why should they talk?
He is not a policeman. However, police will ask him to talk to a group of youth before they step in, to arrest them.
Upshaw says that being at home is something he does not take for granted, especially with a fourth strike. He says, “The judge told me that the next time I appear in his court to bring my pillow.”
This was 11 or 12 years ago. Upshaw has been walking the tightrope ever since. He sees his life as a warning to youth he sees hanging out smoking marijuana in front of elementary schools or kids not paying attention to whose car they ride – to think again.
Not only does Upshaw work as a violence Interrupter for Youth Alive!, he has established Men of Influence so that he can respond to principals who ask him to speak to boys hanging out near their school grounds.
With “Influence” he can also respond to the many children he meets under 12 years old who have run away. His organization also supports an adopt-a-family program during holiday seasons.
With such a busy schedule, Upshaw is the father of a 10-year-old angel, also mentors a youth. It is no wonder that Glen Upshaw he won this year’s Humanitarian Award.