The event also highlighted Heartland Alliance’s partnership with UChicago’s Crime and Inclusive Economy labs on READI Chicago, an intensive violence reduction initiative that offers men at the highest risk of experiencing violence “a different option for their life,” said Evelyn Diaz, president of Heartland Alliance. The initiative pairs 18 months of paid employment with cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps those traumatized by violence slow down their thinking and better respond to stressful situations that too often contribute to the cycle of violence.
The therapy “has helped to change everything from their future orientation, their life goal, to how they acted in a heated moment,” said Diaz, noting partners have engaged 1,600 people and invested $9 million in wages in the initiative’s first five years.
At the heart of many of these strategies, panelists said, is strong partnership and trust.
Jalon Arthur, director of strategic initiatives at Chicago CRED, spoke of his organization’s groundbreaking relationship with UChicago Medicine. CRED’s street outreach team has unfettered access to UChicago Medicine’s Trauma Center, where they’re able to reach victims and their networks in the critical hours after a shooting—when the threat of retaliation is highest.
“To deliver on this work, you need strong community-based organizations because they're on the front lines in their community,” said Derek R.B. Douglas, UChicago’s vice president for civic engagement and external affairs. “They have the respect; they have the trust.”
One way the University can continue to support those organizations in the communities experiencing the most violence is through programs like the Office of Civic Engagement’s Community Programs Accelerator, Douglas added. The Accelerator helps nonprofits fulfill their missions through support such as board development, strategic planning, or grant writing guidance.
This work is complex, often disheartening, and can take decades of sustained commitment, panelists said. It’s important to recognize there’s no “magic solution,” and no institution or organization can address violence prevention alone.
“The whole goal is to make sure that every young person grows up with opportunity, so that all our children can flourish, and that begins at a very early age,” said Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation. “We need these interventions at key points in their lives where we can change the trajectory of their lives and there are clear strategies for how to do that.”
“The work that we are embarking on here in Chicago can really be a template for what should happen around the country,” Jarrett added. “You have to have local leadership that’s strong. You have to have evidence-based practices. You have to have large institutions that can provide an economic engine, whether it's the University or the Obama Center—that’s going to help spur opportunity and create it.
“And you have to have people in the community who are willing to have honest, difficult conversations with one another, which you can only have in safe spaces like the one we've created here tonight, and where we have a listening audience from all over the city, who I hope is feeling what we feel, which is that level of pragmatism, but also optimism.”