T.I., DeKalb Co. judge celebrates Project Pinnacle diversion program graduates

Project Pinnacle diversion program graduation ceremony held at Trap City Cafe
Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 6:23 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Mentors are making a beneficial change in the lives of young people who were on a violent path in Georgia.

A diversion program called Project Pinnacle focuses on educating young people who have been arrested for their choices and gives them a chance to clear their record of a first-time non-violent felony charge.

DeKalb County Superior Court Chief Judge Asha Jackson created the program 11 years ago.

Jackson said she saw too many young men and women scheduled to appear in court for first-time felony charges, but many of them still didn’t have a life skill.

“We’re talking one to five years and if they leave the criminal justice system with no real skills they will re-offend,” Jackson said.

The graduation ceremony was held at the Trap City Cafe, a restaurant that Atlanta rapper, actor, producer, and philanthropist T.I. and business partner Mike Upscale opened in September.

On Wednesday, several young men and women graduated from the year-long program and were presented with gifts and certificates.

The graduates of Project Pinnacle told Atlanta New First that the mentors they were introduced to within the program made the biggest impact on their lives.

“I had a firearm at school when I was still in high school,” Project Pinnacle Graduate Neiman Bruno said he knows what it’s like to make a bad decision.”

They said the mentors gave them a new perspective because it’s not always easy to listen to parents, but it’s easier to hear sound advice from someone with a similar story, background, and or an element of success to aspire to.

Many of them said that without Project Pinnacle they would be behind bars and they would likely have a non-violent felony charge on their record.

“I was just being young and dumb,” Bruno said.

He was facing a non-violent felony charge for making the choice to bring the gun to school.

Project Pinnacle graduate Miles Moton was also facing a similar charge but for a different reason.

“For selling drugs,” Moton said.

Now, they’re both felony free and moving in a different direction because of Project Pinnacle.

It’s a one-year mandatory in-court program for non-violent offenders under the age of 25.

It discourages young people from committing further offenses; teaches life skills, legal rights and responsibilities education, emotional intelligence, critical decision-making, and community service, and offers therapy and guidance from mentors.

“It’s so easy to get into a lot of trouble, so having something positive to do and getting around the right people that can teach me stuff that I had never been taught by anybody else before, makes me feel good and proud of myself for accomplishing this program,” Bruno said.

However, the young men and women of Project Pinnacle told Atlanta News First why they won’t re-offend.

“I have more to lose now,” Moton said.

After successfully completing the program, your non-violent felony charge is wiped off your record, according to Jackson.

However, even if your child does not have a non-violent felony charge and you see them heading down the wrong path Judge Jackson said they can also attend, “The Next Level Boys Academy,” which offers similar wrap-around services and most important mentors.

The graduates received their diplomas, a gift bag with gift cards to Walmart and other specials as well as words of wisdom from T.I., Jackson, and fellow supporters.

One student shared a powerful story that surprised everyone in the crowd.

“I got locked up in 2019 and you had bonded me out and I was told T.I. was going to bond out two people for non-violent offenses. So I just want to thank you for that,” Kourtnei Jackson said.

T.I. encouraged everyone in the room to follow their dreams and stay focused and ignore naysayers. He also spoke about the importance of the program and how he could have also been a beneficiary of a program at a younger age.

“Most of the time, once you’re introduced to an alternative to bad actions, most of us will take the alternative route,” T.I. said. “Judge Jackson recognizes that and uses it as an opportunity to take what the devil meant for bad and use it for good. It’s an honor for me because I like to say things through art with my talent and my experiences. I was put in the same position as a lot of you and I ran streets and had experiences that I put into my art. That took me to places that I couldn’t imagine. If it wasn’t for that, there’s no telling where I would be.”

DeKalb Co. Judge Asha Jackson joined rapper T.I. to celebrate the hard work and dedication the graduating class showed throughout their classes.

“I sat in your chair before,” T.I. said. “I never met a judge that cared that would take time out of their days and just bang their gavel and sentence me. I have never seen that, so I celebrate this program and congratulate each and every one of you. You committed yourselves to change.”

In November, T.I. sat down for an exclusive interview with Atlanta News First at the Trap City Cafe where he detailed opening the restaurant. He also spoke about his illustrious music career, Atlanta’s place in Hip-Hop, and the issues with gentrification and the lack of affordable housing.