The Richmond community is remembering the life of one of its biggest advocates today — an ex-con who turned his life around and is credited with helping reduce crime in some of the city’s public housing neighborhoods.
Jawad Abdu, co-founder of ‘RVA League for Safer Streets,’ died Friday, July 12, after suffering a heart attack. He was 48.
Richmond radio personality Clovia Lawrence, known as ‘Miss Community Clovia,’ told 8News that you would be hardpressed to find someone who advocated for public safety and reducing crime more than Abdu.
The above video is coverage from September 2017 when ‘RVA League for Safer Streets’ launched
“He was a foot soldier,” Lawrence said. “It was his mission to bring gangs together, stop violence and unite our community.”
His vision? Using the sport of basketball to lower the crime rate.
After spending 18 years behind bars for second-degree murder, Abdu dedicated his life to bettering his local community and supporting at-risk youth.
And it worked.
When the program launched in 2017, there were no murders committed in the areas where violent crimes often take place during the seven weeks it was held.
“My mission was to bring down the homicides here in the city of Richmond,” Abdu told 8News last August while hosting the ‘RVA League for Safer Streets’ championship game. “From the stats and from what we learned, we have done that and we are going to do more.”
“Understanding that basketball, this particular thing, is something that unifies people,” league co-founder Paul Taylor added.
Abdu and Taylor met in prison and decided that, upon their release, they would dedicate their lives to supporting at-risk men by creating a basketball league for Richmond’s rival public housing communities. In addition to bringing the neighborhoods together on the basketball court, the initiative also requires participants to attend hour-long workshops focused on teaching life skills.
“My guys and my girls around me, they don’t have nothing to do,” Abdu said. “This is their fun and we’re going to keep them safe while they’re having fun.”
Abdu’s work in the community also caught the attention of city leaders — including former RPD Chief Alfred Durham and Mayor Levar Stoney.
Before retiring in 2018, former RPD Chief Alfred Durham credited Abdu and Taylor with helping reduce crime in six of the city’s public housing communities.
“Both men have been pounding the pavement in some of the city’s most problematic areas trying to get kids who want to be a part of the program and steering them in the right direction,” then Deputy Chief Eric English told the Richmond Free Press in February 2018. “The project took off, and we are seeing results — safer streets and a reduction in crime.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Abdu’s tireless work in the community set an example for all Richmonders to follow.
“As a returning citizen, Jawad made a commitment to give back and uplift his community. For the last three years, the RVA League for Safer Streets, which Jawad co-founded with Paul Taylor, has helped hundreds of at-risk young men find camaraderie and support, not only on the basketball court but also in rebuilding their lives and fostering positive relationships with the Richmond Police Department,” Mayor Stoney said.
“Jawad’s commitment and dedication to making a difference exemplified the One Richmond we aspire to be. On behalf of the City of Richmond, I offer my sincere condolences to his family and friends.”
Richmond City Council also praised Abdu’s ‘unwavering commitment and contributions’ to the city.
“Today, the Richmond City Council joins with the family and friends of Mr. Jawad Abdu in mourning his passing, and in honoring, celebrating, and remembering his life, legacy, unwavering commitment, and contributions to our youth, young adults, and City.
From co-founding the RVA League for Safer Streets that provided a youth and young adult mentorship program through basketball in order to build better futures for our young men, to serving as a beacon of kindness and hope throughout our neighborhoods, to providing a stellar example of extraordinary leadership, Jawad was a committed community leader who will long be remembered by all who knew, loved, and cared about him.
The Richmond City Council hopes that time and the fond memories held by Mr. Jawad Abdu’s family and friends will help lessen the sorrow and bring them peace and comfort now and in the days ahead.” — Richmond City Council
Abdu’s funeral is being held at 11 a.m. Monday at Celebration Church & Outreach Ministry on Midlothian Turnpike.