Legal Aid Society


Q&A: Judy Brown Fears, Community Capacity Development

Few people are as intimately acquainted with the perils facing New York’s historically disenfranchised Black and Brown communities as Judy Brown Fears. Through her role as Community Coordinator of Community Capacity Development (CCD) – a Human Justice & Healing organization dedicated to the complete eradication of gun violence – Judy’s work has helped uplift many of the city’s underserved neighborhoods by providing essential services and other resources vital for community education, empowerment and stability.

We spoke with Judy about her work with CCD, their collaboration with Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit, and the joint effort to support the “Cure Violence” movement.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your background in community building. 

I was born and raised in New York amidst turbulent times marked by racial tensions, drug epidemics, and poverty. These experiences gave me deep insight into the struggles of marginalized communities, especially those of Black and Brown descent. With a background in education, I felt compelled to address systemic issues perpetuating these disparities, and so I focused on working with high-risk youth and families, bridging the gap and providing essential resources to those in need. 

Tell us about your work with Community Capacity Development (CCD). What communities does CCD serve, and how does it serve them?

Discovering Community Capacity Development was a turning point. For me, CCD isn’t just a job; it’s a calling. I eagerly joined as a Community Coordinator and found immense fulfillment in its global mission under the leadership of K. Bain, CCD’s Founder and Executive Director. His vision – that human rights plus human development equals human justice – guides our outreach everyday.

In New York City, we serve areas like Queensbridge, Astoria, and Woodside houses, with plans for Brooklyn expansion. Our holistic approach addresses various community needs, from legal services to housing and education. At CCD, we empower marginalized individuals, including the formerly incarcerated, with tools and support for thriving. Through partnerships and grassroots efforts, we uplift communities – fostering resilience and self-sufficiency. It’s about making a tangible difference in overlooked lives. 

CCD is deeply involved in the “Cure Violence” movement. For those who may not be aware of it, please explain what the Cure Violence movement is.

The Cure Violence movement is a groundbreaking public health approach to tackling the epidemic of gun violence, primarily affecting Black and Brown neighborhoods in cities like New York. Cure Violence operates on the premise that violence behaves like an infectious disease and can be treated as such through targeted intervention strategies. Within the Cure Violence model, “violence interrupters” and “credible messengers” – trusted figures within their communities who have experienced violence themselves – help mediate disputes, provide support, and offer alternatives to retaliation, in order to disrupt the cycle of violence and foster community resilience.

How does CCD engage the Cure Violence model?

Community Capacity Development plays a crucial role by facilitating the empowerment of local communities to take charge of their own safety and well-being. Through capacity building initiatives, CCD works within the communities to help equip them with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to address violence from within, fostering sustainable solutions and long-term change.  This includes efforts such as providing job opportunities, access to education, mental health services, and other resources vital for community empowerment and stability.

Judy with Takeasha L. Newton, Lead Community Organizer with The Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit. Photo: Jason Smallwood/LAS

How does your organization collaborate with other community stakeholders, such as The Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit, to defend, educate and organize the community about the Cure Violence movement?

We collaborate closely with community stakeholders through our Community Capacity Development initiatives, which are focused on empowering historically disenfranchised communities facing myriad challenges such as food injustice, mass incarceration, substandard housing, and inadequate education options. Central to our mission is the complete eradication of gun violence – particularly impacting Black and BIPOC individuals – through the provision of vital support and resources.

In partnership with The Legal Aid Society, we’ve been able to leverage their expertise to address legal hurdles and provide crucial assistance to individuals entangled in the judicial system. Their support spans a range of services, including safe surrender, bail assistance, legal advocacy, and workshops aimed at empowering our communities with knowledge about their rights. The collaboration with The Legal Aid Society enriches our efforts, ensuring that our community members have access to essential legal support, further reinforcing the impact and sustainability of our work. 

Mayor Eric Adams has threatened to cut 1.5 million dollars in funding from Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit, a key CMS partner providing legal services critical to Cure Violence work. If this budget cut goes through, how do you think it will affect the development of community-centered public safety solutions in NYC?

In my opinion, Mayor Eric Adams’s proposed budget cut to Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit would severely hamper the development of community-centered solutions. By slashing funding crucial to organizations providing legal services integral to initiatives like Cure Violence, the city risks undermining trust and engagement within its underserved communities. Without adequate support, efforts to address root causes of violence and build sustainable, inclusive safety mechanisms could falter, impeding progress towards a safer, more resilient city.

If you could speak to the Mayor, what would you say to him about the importance of the funding and supporting CJU’s Cure Violence outreach in protecting the next generation of young New Yorkers?

I would emphasize the vital role of funding and supporting CJU’s Cure Violence outreach in safeguarding the next generation of young New Yorkers, especially in Black and Brown communities. Additionally, I’d stress the importance of maintaining resources like Legal Aid to ensure equitable access to justice in these underserved communities.

Please share with us your hopes for the future of the Cure Violence movement.

I envision a future where the Cure Violence movement thrives alongside a New York City that is both safer and more vibrant. Central to this vision is the allocation of increased funding and resources to communities of color. Historically burdened by discriminatory social and economic policies, these communities bear the brunt of systemic inequalities, often manifesting in gun violence. By prioritizing investments aimed at rectifying these disparities, policymakers can pave the way for enhanced health, expanded opportunities, and a substantial reduction in gun-related incidents.