A community safety expert is being brought to Nashville to coordinate a $3 million community safety pilot initiative that will span the city and bring experts from neighborhoods, local business, philanthropy and government together.
Mayor John Cooper has named longtime youth mentor and coalition builder Ron Johnson as the city’s first Metro Community Safety Coordinator.
Johnson will support nonprofits, faith leaders and neighborhood groups as they participate in the mayor’s new Community Safety Partnership and Innovation Fund.
The mayor proposed the fund last week, calling for at least $1.5 million in grants to bolster local partners as they bring community-driven violence reduction programs to neighborhoods.
A mayor-created advisory committee would oversee the grant round, further engaging experts from across the city who are committed to safety and wellness in Nashville’s neighborhoods.
“To achieve community safety, we must harness the power of a community working as one,” Mayor Cooper said. “This is an opportunity to invest in partners who are doing innovative work, to support them, and take their successful models even further in Nashville.”
Johnson has decades of experience in violence prevention strategies that cities across the U.S. have used to reduce gun and other violent crime as they work with and alongside local law enforcement.
“I am honored by Mayor Cooper’s trust,” Johnson said. “This is my life’s work. We need to do everything we can to prevent gun violence and keep our kids out of the criminal justice system.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Cooper has marked another $1 million to augment Nashville’s behavioral health crisis response through the Metro Public Health Department.
His proposal ($3 million in all) goes before Metro Council for approval in coming weeks.
Johnson specializes in group, hospital-based and behavioral therapy interventions that can strengthen a city’s community-oriented approach to public safety.
“As we have implemented evolving strategies to reduce violence through precision policing, graduated police officers from the academy while continuing to hire new ones, and worked to build and strengthen community partnerships throughout Nashville, one thing remains abundantly clear: public safety is a shared responsibility,” said Metro Police Chief John Drake.
“We look forward to working with Ron Johnson to engage nonprofits, schools, churches, and other community groups at even higher levels to enhance Nashville’s safety.”
Johnson began his work as a youth mentor at the Martha O’Bryan Center and then at Metro Nashville Parks. He later worked to introduce an Aggressors, Victims and Bystanders curriculum to Metro Schools and to create the StreetSolid nonprofit for young people and people leaving prison.
“Ron Johnson is the perfect candidate to lead Nashville’s community safety efforts,” said Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway. “The young people, and we are mainly talking about young people, need alternatives. They need people who care, who can connect, and who have their best interests at heart. That is Ron Johnson, as everyone working in this space knows.”
From 2009 to 2018, Johnson ran the Reaching Excellence as Leaders program at Nashville’s Oasis Center, which serves nearly 4,000 young people and families a year.
“There is no better person in Nashville for this position,” said Tom Ward, former Oasis president/CEO. “Ron is a coalition builder, someone who can walk into a room and make that connection. His life experiences have shaped his understanding and informed his perspective. He brings credibility and wisdom to this essential work.”
Johnson is a Tennessee State University graduate.