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Friday, December 3, 2021

Shonna Majors wants back in the trenches

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The reason many people have respected Shonna Majors as the face of Indianapolis’ broad anti-violence strategy is the same reason she’s stepping away. Majors isn’t a politician, not overly polished or the city government type, and after more than three years as the director of community violence reduction, she said it’s time to move on.

Majors said she doesn’t have any regrets about taking the job in 2018. Much like now, the city was frantic to find answers to violence, especially murders.

Majors was the first person with that title. Part of her job was to close the gulf between the community and law enforcement. She oversaw a group of peacemakers, who work closely with people in the community who are at risk of either committing violence or being a victim.

Majors said she loves the work and loves the city, but there are constraints in local government. Known for speaking more candidly than politically, Majors said she felt she couldn’t always say what she wanted to and struggled to be herself.

Majors once admitted to a crowd at a talk on gun violence that it “made my skin crawl” to work with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department in her role. She also told the audience about the bullet that’s in her back from when she was accidentally shot at 16 and said it was the only time in her life she was “happy to be thick.”

Office work was only part of Majors’ responsibilities, but even a little of that is probably too much for someone who’d rather be out in the community.

“This work is so different than what the city is used to doing,” she said, adding that Indianapolis has made progress over the last few years. “I like being in the trenches. I like to be out touching people and see the effect on the world. I can’t sit in the ivory tower and just watch from there.”

Majors’ last day is Nov. 12.

There isn’t enough cohesiveness in Indianapolis, she said. There are too many people and organizations who work in the general anti-violence space but aren’t willing to work together often enough. This is the “silo” issue, for those familiar with government and nonprofit language.

Majors won’t point fingers, not at any person or department. She’s clear that she’s proud of the work she’s done and, to reiterate, doesn’t regret taking the job. She’s confident she won’t regret leaving, either.

“I wish them well,” Majors said.

What’s next?

From the city’s perspective, this is one of the most recognizable faces and voices in the community.

“Shonna Majors has been a critical leader throughout her time with the City, establishing our first-ever Community Violence Reduction team, helping introduce national best practices, amplifying grassroots violence reduction and prevention efforts throughout Indianapolis, and more,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Office of Public Health and Safety said current staff will cover Majors’ responsibilities.

Majors isn’t in a hurry.

“This work, it just puts a strain on your mental health, your physical health, your time,” she said in a phone interview. “I’m a dedicated person, so I gave a lot of my time, a lot of myself to this work.”

She said she has some job offers, including one with the government of Baltimore to do similar work. (Baltimore, she said, seems to be more on the same page than Indianapolis is.)

But for now, Majors is looking forward to spending the holidays with family, some of whom she hasn’t seen in three years.

“I just want to live a little bit, too,” she said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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