In January of 2021, the Steelcase Foundation approved a three-year $300,000 grant to the Urban League of West Michigan to support Cure Violence, an evidence-based violence reduction and intervention strategy. Following the senseless killing of 35 individuals in 2020 and an increase in violence throughout the city, the community sought a strategy to provide long-term impact, selecting Cure Violence, a nationally recognized strategy which treats violence using public health strategies.
Cure Violence began in 1995 at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health under the leadership of Dr Gary Slutkin, a physician and epidemiologist, who utilized behavior change and disease control strategies to reduce violence in the West Garfield Park neighborhood in Chicago. Cure Violence trains individuals with similar lived-experience from the neighborhood to act as violence interrupters and outreach workers, to detect and interrupt conflicts before the occur, provide support for those most at-risk of engaging in violent behavior, and change social norms around violence community-wide for long-term impact. The strategy has been proven highly successful when practiced to fidelity and has been successfully used around the world in areas with high levels of community violence.
The Urban League of West Michigan, as a beacon for social justice and a trusted community partner, was selected to lead Cure Violence in Grand Rapids, receiving training and support to bring the strategy to fruition. Brenda Moore, Vice President and COO of the Urban League, shared her insights on the work so far.
Please provide an overview of the project and how it came to be.
Grand Rapids Urban League—now the Urban League of West Michigan, has served the Grand Rapids community for nearly 80 years with a relentless and unapologetic mission as advocates for equity, justice, and power for people of African descent. Our commitment to addressing the root causes and consequences of public health and safety issues in the Black community is unwavering especially in light of the escalation of violent crime in Grand Rapids since the advent of the pandemic. When our City embarked upon a new, bold approach to ending gun violence called the Cure Violence Project, the Urban League was selected to lead this work as the Implementing Agency/Organization.
The Steelcase Foundation, forever the vanguard in empowering communities and changing lives, was the first foundation to offer Urban League its support of the Cure Violence Project. Cure Violence (CV), is an evidence-based national public health based violence prevention and intervention strategy. CV maintains that violence is a learned behavior that can be prevented using disease control methods. By concentrating intervention on the communities most severely impacted by violence, the model seeks to interrupt potentially violent events, change the behavior of those who are most likely to be involved in violence, and change social norms by learning and resorting to communication-based, non-violent means of deescalating conflicts and resolving problems. The Urban League fully supports and endorses this proven public health methodology and committed to implementing the model using its three-pronged approach to violence prevention:
- Detecting and interrupting the transmission of the disease;
- Treating those at highest risk; and
- Mobilizing the community to change norms.
Please describe the work that you’ve engaged in so far, and your hopes for the work into the future.
The Urban League takes a holistic approach to public safety, the restoration of trust between communities–of-color and law enforcement, and a path forward for meaningful change. Persistent and intertwined health, economic, and racial justice crises bring new urgency to our work to improve access to quality jobs, options to participate in business ownership, and the freedom to pursue economic opportunity.
Some of the factors that drive firearm violence include: trauma, poverty and economic strain; a sense of hopelessness; and racial and economic inequities. Indeed, it is interminable institutionalized inequity that drives violence, and those who experienced the greatest level of economic neglect before the pandemic are likely to bear the brunt of several crises at once. The barriers to health, housing and employment also disproportionately continue to impact those in the Black community, who already had limited access to those resources before the pandemic.
That is why the Urban League chose to accept the challenge to lead the way in this work and proudly stands behind its initial success in implementing the Cure Violence model in Grand Rapids. We remain fully confident that we are and can continue to be successful in our collective efforts to reduce and/or end violence in the greater Grand Rapids community.
So far, our work has accomplished the following during our first nine months of operation:
- Cure Violence has engaged in 2,170 interactions that led to violence detections and interruptions.
- 980 were with high‐risk individuals.
- 1,190 were with medium‐risk individuals.
- Cure Violence has had 51interactions that led to the identification and treatment of high-risk individuals that served to defuse immediate conflicts that had a high‐risk of leading to gun violence.
- Cure Violence has had 143 interactions that led to mediations with key individuals involved in other conflicts that led to community mobilization towards ultimately changing norms.
The Urban League’s Cure Violence Team negotiated a “Peace Treaty” between rivaling street factions where they pledged not to use violence to resolve future disputes. This was a first of its kind ever to occur between these two groups and the Team remains in contact with the groups on an ongoing basis.
The Cure Violence team participated in 20 community events interacting with more than 5,000 residents.
20 Sponsored Family Engagement Events
Easter Egg Hunt
Mother’s Day Brunch
Father’s Day Fish Fry
12 Visits to Juvenile Detention Center; The Cure Violence Team is the #1 guest requested by juvenile residents over the last 30 days.
18 court cases – Advocated for these individuals which resulted in most cases with a dismissal or reduced time because of the Urban League’s involvement.
200 Parent/Student advocacy interventions to eliminate expulsions and suspensions, and reduce placements in alternative schools.
200 Requests from Parents – The Cure Violence Team has responded to 200 requests from parents requesting interventions between them and their children.
What have you learned and what might you share with others who are engaged in similar efforts?
First and foremost, this program is not a silver bullet, but it can and has had success in reducing gun violence in the project’s targeted area. We would encourage others to join the effort and welcome the opportunity to utilize our collective impact to continue to make a difference in reducing violence in our communities. During our first nine months of operation, we have created 30 Partnerships with other community organizations that want to end violence. We have learned that what must also be addressed are the root causes of violence including, poverty, lack of education, unemployment, lack of affordable stable housing, transportation and child care. More help is needed to address these systemic root causes to eliminate disparities and offer individuals and families an equal chance for lifetime success.
We also recognized some of our greatest challenges including the important lesson learned of the need to serve the entire family unit; and thanks to the Urban League’s unique ability to offer direct services in four of the major cornerstones to a successful life (i.e., employment, housing, education, and health), the entire family unit is counseled and provided intense case management services to ensure the entire family’s success, stability, long-term economic security and sustainability. Mental health counseling for the entire family is another significant need, particularly when we seem to make progress with encouraging the youth to change behaviors, however, being certain that adults living in the same household have access to and can also benefit from counseling to change behaviors and increase knowledge as well further encourages and positions the entire family towards success.
Another major challenge is transportation. Youth want to participate in many activities, but lack transportation to get to and from locations/sites. The Urban League could use a mobile van to continue its mobile/street outreach and to facilitate and transport youth to/from youth-centered services and enrichment activities.
A third major challenge is SPACE–the Urban League is in desperate need of additional meeting space to meet the growing demands of area youth that now access the entire facility daily for services. We have a waiting list for some 30+ young boys who desperately want to complete their GED, and although we can provide them bus passes to have ready access to easily get to the League (and we are currently engaged in talks to enable our facility to serve as a location for actual GED training), this new GED site operated by and located in the Urban League, would represent the area’s only facility that would offer GED training during evenings and weekends. Our current space does not afford a training room large enough to accommodate this size group.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
We remain so very grateful for the investment of the Steelcase Foundation in supporting and undergirding not just this project, but the work of the Urban League throughout its history in Grand Rapids. Starting with job creation back in the 1950s to Black and minority-owned suppliers and small business development today, the Steelcase Corporation and its Foundation have and continue to improve the lives of all who call Grand Rapids, Michigan home.
Brenda G. Moore