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Chicago Tribune: A Tale of Two Teachers

Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton writes of two beloved teachers from two very different neighborhoodswho shared the tragic distinction of being unintended victims of gun violence while going about their daily lives – three years and 20 miles apart.

"Chances are that Betty Howard and Cynthia Trevillion never crossed paths in life. On the surface, it might seem as though they had little in common. But the similarities in their deaths should give us all reason to pause. It is among the most striking evidence yet that no one in Chicago is immune to the violence.

That's the tough reality of living in a city where gun violence has been allowed to escalate to the point where random people can be killed while simply going about their lives. It is a fact that's difficult to acknowledge, and one that we are too ashamed to talk about …. We would rather hide behind the illusion that shootings only occur in blighted neighborhoods where most Chicagoans would dare not venture."

But we can't hide and we can't stay silent. Not with so many illegal guns flooding our streets.

"The irony is that both Howard and Trevillion had dedicated their lives to working with young people, helping them gain the tools they would need to keep them from getting caught up in the city's violence. Losing Chicagoans so committed to giving back to their communities is especially tragic. Their deaths should be a call to action for those of us who want our elected officials in the city, the county, the state and the federal government to do whatever it takes to make illegal guns inaccessible."

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One Corner at a Time

Tamar Manasseh and a group of volunteers put on hot-pink T-shirts, got their lawn chairs, some hots dogs, went to the corner of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue and cooked dinner. That is how Manasseh, the founder and president of Mothers Against Senseless Killings (MASK), reclaimed one of the most violent corners in Chicago. After three summers on the block, violent crime and gun-related incidents in that census tract have declined dramatically, Manasseh writes in compelling op-ed.


"Every single day in the summer, especially on weekends, we sit in lawn chairs on the corner of 75th Street and South Stewart Avenue in Englewood, one of Chicago's most violent neighborhoods. Each day, volunteers cook dinner for 75 or so neighborhood kids, who range from infants to teenagers.

I give them chalk so that they can create their masterpieces on the sidewalks, scold them when they fight over the blue and orange foam football, and take great pains to make sure that the child with the racing strip down the center of his head doesn't sneak a morsel from the treats the other kids patiently line up to get, because he can't eat sugar.

These children are now my children, too. For the past three years, the volunteers in an organization I founded, Mothers Against Senseless Killings, have made it our mission to give them their childhoods back — the kind of carefree childhoods so many people in our generation had but too many children in poor neighborhoods are denied.

What we do is simple. We sit on the corners and watch over the children in the neighborhood. My two children always behaved better when an adult had eyes on them. So I thought this would work for the other kids here, too.

This is not exactly an avant-garde idea. I learned it from my mom, who learned it from hers, and so on, back until what I would imagine was the dawn of time. This has always been the role of the black mother in the community. We watch the kids. All of them. This is that "village" that we hear so much about but that has somehow been forgotten. All I've done is try to revive its spirit."

This is a post related to the Promote Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. 

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A March for Peace in Pilsen

On Saturday, September 23rd, over 100 people gathered at the headquarters of Mujeres Latinas En Acción (MLA) for the Pilsen Peace March. Men, women, and youth marched in solidarity to promote peace and nonviolence for teens. Upon arrival, individuals gathered in the basement where they greeted their fellow participants and continued to prep for the day's events. The march began at MLA's headquarters and ended at the Union League Boys and Girls Club, making a few stops along the way. At each stop, a representative from a local community organization showed their support with words of encouragement. For Martiza Rocha, Director of Youth Services at Mujeres Latinas, letting the youth know that they have support in and around their community was very important, "I want to make sure that these kids are aware that they have allies and they have a support system behind them."

Walking through the community, some residents came out to see who the voices were ringing for peace outside their doors. Others joined in, chanting along with calls for nonviolence. Reaching the community and becoming more visible was another goal for the march. Gabriella Fuentes, a Youth Program Advocate, said there was a desire to let the people know that there are "community members who are actively trying to raise awareness and doing the work behind it. We had a lot of residents come out of their houses today to observe the march and ask us about it." This support continued throughout, as drivers waved and honked their horns as we passed. On several occasions people joined in the march, walking alongside us until we reached our final destination.

The planning of the event took input from adults and youth. With a Youth Committee in place, preparation for the march included more than just meetings; there were also in-depth conversations and training involved. They wanted youth to have healthy and informed discussions about violence, more specifically where and how it starts:

"Having them understand, why gun violence happens. So that they know there's some content to it. It's not just our community. There's so much more to it. It's about access; it's about resources. It's about, oppression, it's about so much more than we see in the news. I want students to see how multifaceted gun violence is."--Gabriella Fuentes.

Each week, the committee would meet and engage in a variety of learning activities. To prepare, they read articles, watched short films, conducted research and shared their findings. Through this work, the youth took time to learn from one another as well. Giselle Rico, a High School sophomore and Youth Committee member, said that plans and conversations are starting about the next peace march. She, along with her other cohorts, hope that the march will open the doors for more youth to participate and join their movement, "We might have another march. We could bring more kids, more youth so that they have the option to go to a program instead of into violence because the youth are the future. And if youth are invited, the violence won't go on. They can come to our program and help stop the violence."

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New York Times Highlights Local Intervention Strategies to Reduce Gun Violence

In a New York Times op-ed, four leaders in the effort to reduce gun violence are calling on the federal government to better fund the kind of local intervention strategies pioneered across the country and in development here in Chicago. The community-led strategies are built around partnerships with neighborhood organizations, local police, social services providers and interventions targeted at the most vulnerable young people.

"In the 1990s, a highly effective gun violence reduction strategy was developed in Boston by a group including law enforcement officers, researchers, and black clergy members. According to the National Institute of Justice, it resulted in a 63 percent reduction in the average monthly number of youth homicide victims in that city, an accomplishment that was called "the Boston Miracle."

Since then, variations of that strategy have been implemented in cities across the country. For example, according to a study by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit organization that evaluates the effects of this type of intervention, Stockton, Calif., saw a 42 percent reduction in its monthly count of gun homicides in the first year of the strategy's implementation; similarly, Oakland, Calif., saw just under a 30 percent reduction. (In 2017, the city is on track to have its second-lowest homicide rate in over 30 years.)

Effective gun violence reduction strategies adopt a highly targeted, data-based approach in which the small number of individuals most at risk for shooting (and being shot) are provided with individualized programs of support and pressure to lay down their guns. To this end, law enforcement officials, clergy members, community leaders, social service providers and mentors who have themselves escaped violent lifestyles work in partnership with one another to help these individuals turn their lives around.

Part of the beauty of this approach is that unlike tactics such as "stop and frisk" policing, these strategies do not eat away at already fractured relationships between law enforcement and communities of color. Instead, they harness the leadership and experience of the people who live in and understand these communities."

The writers are Michael McBride, the national director of the PICO Live Free Campaign, Antonio Cediel, the campaign manager of PICO Network Urban Strategies, Amber Goodwin, the director of the Community Justice Reform Coalition and Ciera Walker, the executive director of Live Free Chicago. 

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Introducing Kufi Club

 

"I wear the Kufi Hat a lot. One day a 6-year-old kid asked me 'Man, what's that your wearing on your head?' I explained to him what it was, he was like how can I get one?' I said well you gotta join the club, because when you wear this crown, this Kufi, you have to carry yourself with self-pride, self-dignity, and self-respect."

David Mohammed, a teacher on the Westside, launched The Kufi Club in May 2015.He started the club because something was missing within the African-American community, "The Kufi Club is filling a huge void in programming of African-American children when it comes to teaching them, thoroughly about their African and Black heritage."

The Kufi club operates under a model based on traditional African principles and morals, with the Kufi, or "crown" representing a successful understanding of that knowledge. With each lesson learned, participants receive a different color Kufi to represent their progression in the program.

This summer the Kufi Club found a more permanent home by repurposing an old grocery store, in Chicago's Roseland community, near the corner of 122nd and Michigan. The block is lined with other residents as well, including a barbershop and several clothing stores.

The rehab of the location took about 3 to 4 weeks, as construction workers transformed the space, removing shelves, installing laminate flooring, adding carpet and painting the walls ivory. Panels of red, black and green were also incorporated into the design to represent the African American Flag.

On August 26th, the grand opening of the new location brought in current club members, but it also caught the attention of many Roseland Community members. "We talked about some things that were going on in the community and got feedback from residents of the community, and they expressed their support," said Mr. Mohammed.

There are a few more updates in the works for the KUFI club's new home as they recruit their next cohort of youth. Programs and other events are expected to begin this month. The Kufi club is also a resource for adults. Parent engagement is a desired aspect of the club as their involvement also aids in their efforts to improve the community.

As Mohammed put it, "I saw this as an opportunity for me to acquire this place and establish a base in the Roseland community to grow and develop our programs and make a difference."

The generous donations from the Safe and Peaceful Communities program helped David and the Kufi Club provide a safe space for Southside children all summer long.

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The Road to Peace Is Through Dance

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Students of Lindblom Math and Science Academy were given the option of learning Swing, Steppin', and Salsa during a "Dance Makers are Peace Makers workshop" held at Lindblom in late Septemeber. Their dance of choice, Steppin', a well-known partner dance in the city of Chicago involves an easy to learn two-step.

As the rising vibrations of Beyoncé's "Love on Top" permeated the space, students stood attentively with their eyes glued to instructor Chris Van Houten's feet. Each holding steady grins of determination, they watched and investigated their reflections in the wall of mirrors ahead of them. Following each step and practice run with the music, the excitement and joy in the room rose with laughter and congratulatory high-fives as these dance makers became peacemakers.

In coming up with the theme of their workshop, the staff of "Dancing with Class" had one goal in mind: to make peace by spreading joy. Executive Director, Margot Toppen, said that they specifically chose partner dancing because of the organic human connection that comes with dancing. As an organization whose mission is "to energize schools and communities through the joys of dance" this summer's workshop was created with the intention of bringing together people who may start out not knowing each other well, but find that their feet move in the same way. The workshop's title and theme were also heavily incorporated, with leaders and followers transforming into peacemakers and joy makers.

After the students learned the dance in its entirety, Van Houten announced that each pair would be split, with one person being a peacemaker and the other a joy maker: "By using the labels peacemaker and joy maker, it's reinforcing this idea that we can spread peace and joy through this activity." With their new roles in place, and the music playing, the pairs took spins and glided across the floor, adding their twist to the original basic step. Students were then prompted to gather and make a circle, moving and rotating as one.

For the participants who may have started out simply as classmates, they ended as friends with a memory they will always share. The hope for Dancing With Class is that these students go on to share this experience with others as well. Whether it is the dance itself that they learned or just the experience, the goal is to continue to spread this joy long after the workshop has ended. Margot Toppen sees the impact of the workshop extending well beyond the time the students spend in the workshop, "Our vision of what we wanted to do, was really to create ambassadors throughout the city, through the students who participate. That they can experience the joy that dance brought them and encourage them to carry that forward."

At the end of each workshop, participants were given a pin/button that held a QR code, which connects them to images and short videos of each workshop. In providing this code, it allows participants to relive the joy of their experience as well as share it directly with others. 

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Chicago Tribune: JPMorgan's $40M contribution will test argument that crime stems from lack of opportunity

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During a dire week in which Chicago approached 500 homicides for the year, we also saw a beacon of hope.

JPMorgan Chase announced that it would invest $40 million in economically deprived neighborhoods on the South and West sides where chronic poverty and violence go hand in hand.

Certainly, no one thinks an infusion of cash can solve all of the problems associated with African-American and Hispanic men who are killing each other at an alarming pace. But it is, at least, a start to addressing the root causes of the homicides in a tangible way.

Chase is providing Chicago with a chance to test an argument that community activists, sociologists, neighborhood residents and others have been making for years — that the young people who are killing each other aren't all inherently bad. Rather, it's the lack of opportunities driving them to become people they were not meant to be.

Read the full article by the Chicago Tribune's Dahleen Glanton.

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Inside Philanthropy: Philanthropy vs. Gun Violence: Pay Attention to Chicago

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This August, 45 people died from 249 incidents of gun violence in Chicago, according to reporting by DNAinfo. Those are tragic numbers, but they actually represent a drop in violence from last summer, when 369 August shootings claimed the lives of 79 people. In 2016, the city experienced a major spike in gun homicide, prompting a sense of crisis and the question from community activists: Is Chicago philanthropy doing enough?

Faced with that question from a local community leader, the MacArthur Foundation pointed to the billion dollars it's invested in its home city since 1979. But it also quickly joined a group of Chicago's top funders to roll out the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities in advance of Labor Day weekend, a time when shootings often soar. Emergency grants went out to 70 local groups that offered ideas for countering violence.

While the new fund was set up as summer wound down last year, the rapid response effort hit full stride this spring, with a grants cycle that started pulling in proposals by April and issued checks to community groups before the school year ended and the dangerous hot days of summer began. The fund cast a wide net with its support, this time providing grants to 120 groups in over 17 Chicago neighborhoods. It also organized events around the city, promoted with the Twitter hashtag #safestsummerever2017.

Read the full article by Inside Philanthropy's Philip Rojc and David Callahan.

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Chicago Tribune: JPMorgan Chase to invest $40 million in Chicago's South and West sides

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JPMorgan Chase plans to invest $40 million in Chicago's historically underserved South and West sides in an effort to tackle the city's poverty and violence through economic growth.

The three-year initiative by the nation's largest bank is its second-biggest commitment to a single city, following an infusion of $150 million into Detroit. It amounts to a 50 percent increase in JPMorgan Chase's philanthropic contributions in Chicago. The bank typically has invested $8 million to $9 million annually.

The challenge: turning that $40 million into meaningful changes in neighborhoods that have seen decades of decline and uncertain outcomes from previous philanthropic efforts. 

Grants from Chase to community groups will fund job training, small businesses expansion, neighborhood revitalization and personal financial health programs through a variety of community partners already working in Chicago. To ensure the money is having an impact, it is funding third-party evaluations and has a local team of Chase experts monitoring the investments along the way to change course if necessary. Opening bank branches in the target communities is not part of the plan.

Read the full article by the Chicago Tribune's Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Lauren Zumbach.

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Chicagoans Gather in Douglas Park for Chicagoland United in Prayer Event

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On August 19th hundreds of Chicagoans gathered in Douglas Park for the Chicagoland United in Prayer event. Organized by a variety of the city's Christian Leaders, this event called for members of diverse communities to come together in prayer for the City of Chicago. The event was organized by a myriad of religious leaders and organizations including Pray Chicago, Latino Ministries Alliance, Chicago Prays and Chicago Peace Campaign. In an interview with Apostle Ed Peecher of the Chicago Peace Campaign, we gained insight on the vision and goals that he and other organizers had for this project.

"The vision and goal was to have as many active church members - across denominational, ethnic, and geographic lines, to lay aside those differences between us and concentrate on the stronger connections we had which is our connection to Christ as His Body in the City of Chicago, xand our common burden for the welfare for the city, and our common faith in the power of prayer."

Saturday morning hundreds of community members, young and old, began this event with a prayer walk from their designated areas to Douglas Park. The walks began at 10 am from three different locations: Marshall High School, Lawndale Christian Health Center and Saucedo Academy. As they walked down the streets of these neighborhoods, many carried signs with the name of the communities they represented. This included members from Roseland, South Shore and West Garfield Park, along with 74 other communities that were represented that day.

Upon arriving at Douglas Park, people gathered in front of an outdoor stage, quickly filling the seats positioned in the grass. As they entered the park, members also carried large handmade crosses some of which had community names written on them, and others adorned with the names of community members who lost their lives to violence. Crosses, along with some of the neighborhood signs, were placed at the head of the stage. Dr. Walt Whitman and The Soul Children of Chicago led the formal worship service. All across the park, smaller prayer circles were formed, as individuals were moved to engage in corporate prayer.

"During the actual prayer time in the park - I saw unity that I had not seen before. I have been heavily involved with several citywide prayer initiatives in the past, but I sensed a spirit of unity more at this prayer gathering than any of the previous gatherings. Some were larger than this one - but none had the oneness of this one." - Apostle Peecher

After the scheduled prayer time had ended, the celebration of unity and the "spirit of oneness" continued. In addition to food trucks arriving, school supplies were handed out to the younger attendees in preparation for the new school year; there were also immunization services for students.

This display of community and support for the City of Chicago comes at a time when many are blinded by difference. However, the tremendous number of people who participated and spread the word about this event, is evidence that there is a resounding need for this type of union in Chicago. When asked about the plans for the future, Apostle Peecher made it clear that this is only the beginning as he and other leaders continue to pursue the goal of oneness and unity for Chicago and its people:

"We, the planners of this gathering, are already in full swing planning for a Soldier Field gathering next July 14. Ultimately my expectation is for a greater connection between congregations in the city, so that the Church in the Chicagoland area begins to operate like one single unit." 

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WBEZ: To Curb Chicago’s Gun Violence, Foundations To Provide Jobs And Therapy To Shooters

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WBEZ's Chip Mitchell profiled a Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities initiative in an August 7 segment, "To Curb Chicago's Gun Violence, Foundations To Provide Jobs And Therapy To Shooters." Heartland Alliance designed and coordinates the initiative, called Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI), which connects individuals at highest risk of being a victim or perpetrator of gun violence to critical services -- including transitional jobs, coaching and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Read and listen to the full story.

This is a story about the Street Outreach and Violence Interruption strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Young People and Police Start Talking at Elijah’s House

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Elijah's House kicked-off their anti-violence activities in August with an event to mend the walls of communication between Chicago's youth and the Chicago Police Department. Venita Williams, Executive Director and planner of this event, said the idea was born from conversations staff members often had with teens about their daily concerns. They found that many teens had questions about the state of their communities and wanted to know the roles these officers played:

"…it was something that youth were always asking about… 'why did this happen,' 'why am I perceived a certain way,' 'why are there drugs in my school,' or 'why am I targeted when I dress a certain way?"

The idea to host a round table conversation where Chicago police officers and young people from the community could sit down and discuss the issues face to face was born from these questions.

Elijah's House staff understood that youth involvement in the process would be essential to achieving a successful event and their desired outcomes. With this in mind, they identified several avenues for young people to influence the event profoundly. First, students from the culinary program were recruited to cater the event. They spoke with their peers and planned a menu that both the police officers and the students would enjoy. Next, students from the journalism and broadcasting program conducted field research on youth violence, focusing their efforts in Humboldt Park. They wrote short articles on their findings and published them in Urban Teen Magazine which is produced by Elijah's House. Their findings led to several follow up questions that later became core questions in the round table conversation.

On the day of the Round Table, students stood outside peeking through the crack between the closed doors. Once open, they rushed through to the registration tables, where they found personal name tags and their seating arrangements. As students grabbed food and took their seats, officers from the 11th and 15th districts arrived dressed in plain clothes and began mingling with the teens. Each table was composed of 8 to 9 youth and one officer; there was no facilitator or another adult present. The youth had full control over the dialogue and eagerly dove into their questions.

As staff walked the room, there was a sense of calm as the intimacy and openness of the conversation allowed for an amplified safe space for honesty and the ability to converse with ease. Venita Williams, Executive Director of Elijah's House, observed, "...you have these kids perceiving authority one way, but then they're reconnecting in a different way." Williams says even the shyest kids had something to say. As the event went on, the topics of their conversation broadened to include favorite school subjects and auto parts, as the youth and officers began getting to know one another on a more human level.

The feedback on the Round Table was unanimous amongst students and officers; both identified that there is a need for these conversations to continue. The goal of this event was to improve the interactions between officers and teens. However, Elijah's House recognizes that this is only the beginning. To truly make an impact, conversations such as this must continue, as it is important these relationships are maintained. For Williams these connections can and will truly make the difference:

"…If I say hi to you every day, you begin to know me. And I begin to build that familiarity; then I do begin to feel safe within my community. I do know that if something happens, I have a direct link to an individual who can make an impact, who can help me turn a situation around."

Elijah's House hopes that similar Round Tables will spring up in other communities to further the conversation and engagement amongst the youth and the Chicago Police Department. For more information on their event, including a video check out the Elijah's House website in the coming weeks at https://www.elijahshousenfp.org/

This is a story about the Promote Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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Introduction to the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities

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Chicago's gun violence crisis requires all of us to make community safety a priority. Last year, following a decade of progress in reducing violence, Chicago suffered 4,368 shootings and 764 homicides, a level of violence unheard of since the 1990s. The trend continues in 2017. It must stop, and all of us have a role to play.

There is so much to do, but it is heartening that so many are stepping up to meet the challenge. Families, community and religious leaders, church groups, local organizations and others are working to make blocks and neighborhoods safer throughout the city. Organizations are reaching out to individuals at risk of violence with jobs and services. Reforms are underway at the Police Department. Adding to these urgent responses is the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities, a coalition of more than 30 Chicago funders and foundations committed to aligning their funding to support proven and promising approaches to reducing violence.

Starting in 2016, informed by longstanding work by many organizations—large and small—to address root causes of gun violence, several foundations supported the operations of the Police Accountability Task Force and made direct investments in more than 120 neighborhood organizations in communities most affected by violence. As the Partnership has grown, members have invested in additional strategies.

Our hope is that by coming together to support work across Chicago, especially in communities at greatest risk, we will help strengthen programs and lay the foundation for a meaningful reduction in gun violence over the next two to three years. Members of the Partnership are working together to coordinate their individual investments in four key strategies:

  • Intervening with likely victims and perpetrators through street outreach, constructive policing interventions, cognitive behavioral therapy and jobs.
  • Increasing legitimacy for and effectiveness of the Chicago Police Department through improved training, better police-community relations, greater community voice in the design and operations of police accountability structures, and other reforms.
  • Strengthening gun laws to reduce the availability of illegal firearms.
  • Supporting 120 grassroots community-based organizations for events and projects in 2017 across 17 Chicago community areas to foster stronger community bonds, crowd out violence and promote constructive engagement with law enforcement.

To date, members have committed more than $30 million to support and coordinate work on these strategies. Along with commitments from many other groups, and ongoing investments from city, county, state and federal government agencies, the greater Chicago community is responding to the crisis of gun violence, and we can all help. Still, the magnitude and urgency of the challenge demand much more.

We know you are someone who cares deeply about Chicago's future. If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer.

In the months ahead, we will keep you informed about ongoing Partnership activities and Chicago's progress in reducing gun violence. We are working on a website that can serve as an information hub, and will let you know when it is live. In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

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Everyone who cares deeply about Chicago’s future can play a role.

If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer. Reach out to learn more.

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