Monday, May 5, 2008

Solutions for Violent Communities starting in the Community

As the weather gets nicer, the recent spurt of violence in Chicago has made national news. In the New York Times, there was an article written by Northwestern professor Alex Kotlowitz, featured in their Sunday magazine about an organization in Chicago called CeaseFire, which sends intermediaries from the communities where the violence is occurring to intervene and prevent violence from happening or at the very least prevent retaliatory actions after a violent act has occurred. Often the intermediaries (or "interrupters" as they like to call them) are former gang members who were community leaders and who have built a network of trust in the community. Many of them have served prison sentences and view their work with CeaseFire as giving back to the community that they caused violence in.

What makes CeaseFire so unique is that it was founded by Dr. Gary Slutkin, who was a doctor working in parts of Africa where there epidemics of cholera and tubercliosis before he moved back to his hometown of Chicago. Dr. Slutkin believes that violence in a community is just like a disease epidemic and in order to combat this disease of violence, you need to go to the source and work with them.

The position of CeaseFire viewing violence as a literal epidemic, is a position that Cabrini Connections also takes. In the past, Dan Bassill has used public health terms in his blog to discuss various issues in poor communities such as the drop out epidemic (see his April 20th blogpost on "Mapping Drop Out and Public Health Issues" for the most recent article to touch on this issue).

Another point of view that Cabrini Connections shares with CeaseFire is that the members of a community are the keys to changing the community for the better. We believe that the parents, grandparents, churchleaders and general community leaders are vital allies in our campaign to improve kids' lives. A wonderful example of community members working to make their community better is an article in last Friday's Chicago Sun-Times the group of moms in the Back of the Yards neighborhood who have joined together along with churches and the police department to combat the cycle of violence that has been rampant in their neighborhood and others. Some of these moms have children who are members of gangs or who are connected to gangs, but these moms have courageously spoken out against the influence of gangs to not only protect their kids, but everyone else in the community as well.