COLUMBUS, Ohio — Most days of the week, you’ll find Thell Robinson at the Halt Violence headquarters. His past brought him to this moment.
“My violent lifestyle as a drug dealer, God spared me after doing everything I did,” Robinson said.
He said he dealt drugs in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. before moving to Columbus and dealing drugs on the North and South Side. The temporary actions became a permanent way of life which led to his incarceration. After serving his sentence, he realized he had a role to play in fixing the community he had helped break up.
“These young adults and young people are the victims of the drugs we were selling these days,” Robinson said.
He started Halt Violence in 2014. The nonprofit helps at-risk people of all ages by providing relationships and mentorship in a place of non-judgment and understanding. De-escalation of conflict and believable role models are the secrets of Halt Violence’s success. Robinson was named an Echoing Green Fellow in 2018, where he was able to gain training and funding to become a social leader in the Columbus community.
Robinson says the key to connecting with young people today is to listen.
“It’s tied to their time not our time and once you do that they will open up to you,” Robinson said. “That’s when you can start the process of building a relationship.”
The nonprofit has been a force in central Ohio — mostly by word of mouth. Carlyn Thompson, 15, heard about the program through her cousin. He saw the impact Robinson could have on his cousin and recognized that he could make some changes himself. Thompson stops by the Halt Violence office a few times a week to receive hands-on mentorship.
He also gets the chance to let off steam playing an Xbox in the front office. Thompson’s time with Halt Violence refocused her priorities on her grades, sports, and a future job in construction.
“I just want them to know it’s more than they see,” Thompson said.
The non-profit organization has partnered with businesses and organizations to provide employment opportunities to some of their clients who may have committed crimes. They offer interview and resume workshops, interview attire and budgeting classes. Robinson says jobs will get young people off the streets, but financial literacy is what will hold them back.
“These are the conversations we have so we can help these young men figure out how to budget their check and not spend like they were spending on the street because on the street you spend it as it comes and you can’t do that,” Robinson said. “You have to check live to verify.”
Columbus saw 204 homicides last year and 91% of them involved the use of firearms, Columbus police reported. The city has already seen numerous homicides this year and Robinson knew some of the victims personally. He says that while the work can be difficult, it is essential to do it, now more than ever.
“We’re creating this safe space, you know,” Robinson said. “When a person walks through that door or when we engage with someone in the community, we meet them where they are.”
Halt Violence is located in downtown Columbus. If you or someone close to you would like to learn more about Halt Violence and the resources they offer, you can find them online.