Woodson helped broker a truce between rival gangs, then introduced jobs, training, and education. The neighborhood was transformed by gang leaders who became "crew chiefs" and who, because of their "street cred," could influence younger kids, now in a positive way.
Woodson named the initiative the Violence-Free Zone, and it became one of the CNE's core programs. A community organizer asked Woodson to start a VFZ in a Dallas school, and the program later added 35 other schools in Baltimore, Richmond, Dallas, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. CNE helps manage the sites and provides training, technical assistance, administrative and financial oversight, and links to potential funding sources. The program depends on youth advisers who are chosen from the neighborhood, thoroughly vetted for criminal records, drug abuse, and other issues, and trained with the help of CNE materials. These advisers then act as monitors, mediators, mentors, and role models to other kids.
A Baylor University study of Milwaukee high schools found that the Violence-Free Zone participants had an 11 percent decrease in violent incidents and a 4 percent increase in GPAs, compared to a 15 percent increase in violent incidents in non-VFZ schools and no improvement in GPAs. "Once the youth have something positive to say 'yes' to, it becomes easier to say 'no' to the negative activities that promote violence," says Victor Barnett, executive director of the Running Rebels Community Organization, which oversees the program in four of the schools.