Why is so much violence being committed among youth in Chicago? Norman Livingston Kerr, UCAN’s Vice President of Violence Prevention Services, has direct insight into the problems that are compounding the epidemic.
“Many young people don’t have the support they need. When trauma goes unaddressed, it impacts the community and can lead to health and behavioral issues. Some of these youth are more prone to be violent because they are upset and have access to guns,” Kerr explained.
While some view these chilling truths with gloom and despair, UCAN sees significant opportunity to positively impact the lives of some of Chicago’s most at-risk youth. One innovation UCAN adopted is a trauma screening process for youth entering the organization’s violence prevention programs.
“We ask different questions about what they have experienced and witnessed. The final question is, ‘How often do you think about this?’ We’ve found that some kids have experienced many different traumas and think about them all the time. If you get that type of understanding of a youth that is in your program then you are going to work with them differently—in a way that’s more engaging and supportive,” explained Kerr. Currently, there is a small pilot group of organizations that are adding these trauma screenings to their programming. UCAN is working to train other organizations to use these screenings.
Collaborations are also an essential piece of the puzzle. UCAN is the lead agency for the Peace Hub, which connects more than 30 community partners to reduce violence, increase engagement among youth ages 12-24 in programming, and enhance communication among service providers. “The Community Builders, Gary Comer Youth Center, Shambhala Chicago and Chicago Lights Mentoring have been great partners, among others. They are very active in the advancement of the Peace Hub and day-to-day education on violence prevention. They are also running innovative programs in their communities using a positive youth development approach,” stated Kerr.
Kerr believes that to have a sustainable impact on the violence in the community, a few key needs have to be addressed. “I think you have to draw a straight line and go to the individuals who are the most violent. That should be the approach citywide and definitely on the neighborhood level. We do that by having criteria for the population we work with and directly engaging
them. We want to intervene with then ones who are violent now.”
He explained that expanding programs past adolescence is extremely important. “Many cities and local programs appear to be more focused on law enforcement intervening with youth. When youth become older adolescents, most programs don’t want to work with them. I truly believe that if we intervene with those youth who are high risk into late adolescence, we will start to see
reductions in violence.” He noted that this strategy has seen success in other cities. This is a public health approach that has addressed various epidemics around the world and has been at the center of the success for violence prevention efforts including CeaseFire.
Community-level engagement and street outreach is the focus of UCAN’s Violence Prevention programs. UCAN has been intentional in hiring staff from North Lawndale as there is a certain level of trust built in when they go out to work in that neighborhood. Kerr explained, “Although we do work with schools, we are not waiting for them to bring us kids. We go out and
intentionally try to engage youth and form a relationship with them. Our staff has built a reputation for helping people so now youth are referring their friends to our program. We’ve had young men say, ‘I wish there was a coach to work with my boy.’ If a young man in the program has someone working with his best friend that helps change the path.
For more information on UCAN’s violence prevention efforts contact Norman Kerr at 773-290-5876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
View the ABC 7 segment which featured UCAN’s Violence Prevention program.