Jonathan McMillan, once a troubled youth and today a mentor and community activist, has joined Mayor Michael Hancock’s Youth Violence Prevention Action Table as its Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator.
The YVPAT was started in 2019, during an increase in gang activity in the city, to improve collaboration and information-sharing across city agencies, community businesses and youth groups in order to boost prevention and intervention efforts. Current members include Kwon Atlas from the mayor's office; Denver Public Health’s Bill Burman; Mike Eaton, director of school safety for Denver Public Schools; and Deanne Maes, chief of Denver Adult Probation. Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson has been leading the Table since its inception. McMillan was a member of the executive team before getting the full-time gig, which Hancock announced January 27.
“As a teenager and young adult, I was part of the problem,” McMillan says. “I was aimless and reckless. I got into a lot of trouble and disappointed a lot of people who wanted more for and from me, including my family and community. For the last twenty years, I’ve been working toward one major goal: being part of a solution to youth and community violence.”
The YVPAT is definitely designed to be part of that solution. “The Table has been meeting regularly to devise a comprehensive plan which addresses Denver’s youth violence problem with a public-health approach,” McMillan explains. “This means identifying and reducing the risk factors in systems and communities which lead to increased violence, and identifying and amplifying the protective factors, which reduce and prevent violence.
"The Table’s work has produced several specific strategies, which include creating opportunities for youth to access mental health and trauma resiliency support and resources, workforce opportunities, social-emotional support through mentoring and many others," he adds. "My job, in part, will be to help coordinate the work of all of the various stakeholders, so that the combined strategies work as a seamless collaboration.”
McMillan has worked in youth and gang violence prevention and intervention for almost thirty years. In 1992, in order to complete his community service, he started a stint with the Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives program, a nonprofit organization launched by Reverend Leon Kelly. His first assignment was helping a group of troubled middle school students.
“One of the young men was very involved, and we became fairly close,” McMillan recalls. “Not long after I started working with him, he was killed as a result of his gang involvement. His death stuck with me for years. I felt like if I had known more, I could have done more to help him."
McMillan took it hard. “The guilt led me into a relapse into my self-destructive ways,” he relates. “A few years later, I wound up in prison. While incarcerated, I began studying personal development and human services so I could have the necessary knowledge and skills to help young people.”
In December 2000, McMillan was released from prison and began serving on a variety of violence-prevention boards including Park Hill Strong, Launch microSCHOOLS and Bayaud Enterprises. Before the pandemic, he also collaborated with Doretta Tootle to relaunch Safe Zones, a project that offered a series of social events — movie nights, field days and more — designed to reduce youth violence in Denver.
McMillan is best known for launching Be Better Than Average, a consulting company that offers success skills and personal development training, mentoring and life-coaching services; it's thrived during the pandemic. “My skill set services are most in demand when communities are hurting,” McMillan explains. “Between contracting with the City and County of Denver and Denver Public Schools as well as being hired as a speaker and moderator, I’ve found ways to provide value.”
In addition to working with the YVPAT, he’s partnered with Metropolitan State University of Denver's Vice President for Student Affairs Will Simpkins and Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Wellness Braelin Pantel to create a program for students who were formerly incarcerated or on probation.
“I saw a job posting one day and felt as though the job was perfect for me, given my background and passion for disrupting systems which disenfranchise people, especially people of color,” McMillan says. “As I transition into this new role with the city, I will hopefully be able to contract with MSU to complete building the program, because [it’s] necessary for so many students.”
McMillan starts his new job on February 16; find out more about the Youth Violence Prevention Action Table on its website.
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