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Antoine Towers

Violence Interrupter | (510) 459-1198

Antoine Towers has a message that could save lives, a vision he wants to share with young people on the streets and in the schools of Oakland: stop a minute and think before you act. “We’re hurting each other because we don’t take time to consider the harm we do,” he says.

At Youth ALIVE!, Antoine is a member of our elite team of Violence Interrupters (VI). VIs work deep within communities across the city, each VI in the very neighborhoods where they live or grew up, and where they retain connections and influence. They mediate conflicts and solve problems between groups and individuals, disputes that are heading for a violent resolution. It’s not easy. Too many of us have been taught that violence is a legitimate solution; too many young people have taken that lesson to heart. “We trained them to be this way.” says Antoine, speaking of an older generation in Oakland, of which he is a part, “and now we’re asking them not to.”

Antoine grew up in East Oakland but after some time away settled in West Oakland. Like so many Youth ALIVE! program staff, he has been a presence in the community for years, as chair of the Oakland Violence Prevention Coalition, a collection of groups who work for greater safety in Oakland, and as a key contributor to the birth of the City’s Department of Violence Prevention. Also as a barber. Never underestimate the power of a haircut; it’s always a great opportunity, whether in his shop, or working with Operation Dignity, a program to help those living on the streets of Oakland, for Antoine to listen to someone’s story, to find out what they need. Sometimes he would cut hair in the encampments. “When I feel something needs addressing,” he says, “I put myself there.”

As a VI, Antoine is asking those with beefs on the streets to forego the retaliation that sometimes is expected of them. He knows he’s asking them to make a sacrifice, to take a certain kind of risk to create change. “I can help them see what they’re doing to others and the community,” he says, “because they can’t see it themselves.” He also knows that, in some cases, their living is at stake. But so are lives. “My gift is an ability to pass on the message to turn things around,” he says. “People normalize the violence. They say, ‘This is Oakland;’ they say, ‘this is life.’ But we are more than that. I believe in the beauty of life.”

Headshot of Violence Interrupter  Antoine Towers