Travis Laurendine is being honored as a Champion of Change for applying his tech skills for civic good.
We used the platform of the National Day of Civic Hacking to try and put a dent in one of New Orleans’ most important problems: a high murder rate. For my entire life, I have always lived around this problem, but it never came closer to me than on Mother's Day when nearly 20 innocent people were shot at a parade. It happened on my street and my father and I nearly stopped off at the parade on the way to my Mom's celebration. I could have been there... and many of my friends actually were! The next day I walked down the street to the gathering the Mayor had arranged. Talking with the mayor (and Idea Village CEO Tim Williamson) spurred the idea of an anti-murder hackathon. The National Day of Civic Hacking seemed like the perfect opportunity.
I've had a great deal of success with hackathons in New Orleans. They were so successful that local people basically thought I invented the concept (obviously not the case!). However, when I launched the Hack the Murder Rate campaign, I was met with quite a bit of online resistance—people who were somehow against the idea (or name) of “Hacking” the Murder Rate. These people took to twitter to slam the idea and they surely decreased the turnout for the hackathon. One went so far as to make a parody website. Initially, I was angry about this but I was reminded of Ghandi's quote "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
Well, we went ahead and made an app and now, with going to the White House, I can't help but feel like a winner.
The story of the app is that I sought out people on the front lines of the murder problem to see what they did to combat this problem and to protect their loved ones. Thanks to my career in hip hop concert productions, I have a good deal of rapper friends who live on the front lines. One of them, Skip, told me a story about a "beef" that he "squashed" just a week prior. The key element to this peaceful resolution was that he was the person who was trusted by BOTH people in the conflict, and seen as an “OG” (“original gangster”) in the community. He realized that he was the only person in a position to mediate the conflict and so he did it himself. What I realized was that we could design a system that used information technology to scale this process. This, coupled with the fact that nearly 60% of murders with known causes stem from prior conflicts, meant that if we could scale up the mediation happening in the city, we really could hack the murder rate.
At the event (hosted by the lovely Willow of Geeks without Bounds) we amassed an all-star team. George Mauer and Justen Martin helmed the programming, Bill Brown and Julie Green did the design, and Wade Kodrin (Army conflict veteran in the Afghan and Iraq Wars) and Michelle Calabro helped visualize the data and define our "customer" flow. Tyronne Walker from NOLA 4 Life came by to help make sure we were working in the right direction and then he invited us to their midnight basketball tournament to get our first users and get their feedback.
The first part of the app is anonymous "beef" reporting. This is the web compliment to the anonymous phone beef reporting service that already exists. We ask for certain identifiers such as name, neighborhood, and Twitter or Facebook profile name. We then match that information against the combined network of all of the OG's that we register in the city. This can be rappers, business owners, preachers, or others respected in the community. When a "beef" is submitted we then search to find a matching OG who has that person in their network. From that point we will work with NOLA 4 Life to help mediate the conflict and bring it to a peaceful resolution.
The app still has a long way to go, but our mission to create the initial prototype in a weekend was fulfilled and hopefully this White House honor will help us get the funding needed to bring a more complete version out to the world.
Travis Laurendine is the founder and CEO of LA Labs.