Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said…
PEACE IS NOT JUST THE ABSENCE OF TENSION. IT'S THE PRESENCE OF JUSTICE.
At the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, we aim to be a source of justice in our city.
In 2012, Chicago led the nation in murders and people all around the city and throughout the country were beginning to take notice. Then in 2014, following the murder of Laquan McDonald, which occurred shortly after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, Chicagoans started paying even more attention to violence in the city, to the communities it was impacting the most and to the trauma it was causing in individual lives. While Chicago had been experiencing a shift in its attitude toward violence in the city for several years, this event sparked a concerted effort to find ways to create more justice and peace.
In October 2015, amidst this new tension in the city, Teny Gross, our founder and executive director, moved to Chicago to start The Institute for Nonviolence. Justice work wasn’t new to Teny. Prior to founding the Institute, Teny spent his career working in nonviolence around the country. He was an outreach worker in Boston and CEO of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence. He paired what he learned from these experiences with the teachings of Dr. King to form the backbone of The Institute for Nonviolence Chicago’s beliefs and practices.
In 2016, the Institute for Nonviolence began its work in Austin, Chicago’s neighborhood most impacted by violence. By implementing comprehensive services for victims and nonviolence trainings, all on the basis of Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence, we started working toward our mission of bringing peace to our city. The work began to expand to Back of the Yards and West Garfield Park, and additional staff were hired, made up of a diverse group of people, including former gang members and former prosecutors. Despite the varied experiences of the staff, what we could all agree on was that it was time to make a change in Chicago. And we began working together to make that change happen.
In 2017, Nonviolence Chicago officially added the West Garfield Park neighborhood to the communities we serve. The funding community, local government and many non-profits came together to develop large-scale strategies to reduce violence through the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities. Nonviolence Chicago played a significant role in this process and continues to actively deepen the collaboration in Chicago’s emerging violence reduction strategy. As the lead agency in Austin and West Garfield Park and a partnering agency in Back of the Yards, Nonviolence Chicago grew significantly in 2017. Through our participation in Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), we increased our capacity to serve residents of Austin & Back of the Yards and expanded geographically into West Garfield Park.
Another driver of expansion was the READI strategy, providing subsidized employment training & cognitive behavioral therapy for high-risk men in Austin and West Garfield Park. In partnership with Heartland Alliance, we offered needed employment opportunities to young men who were otherwise considered unemployable. Nonviolence Chicago continues to provide the Outreach component of this strategy in Austin and West Garfield Park.
Building off the momentum of the 68% reduction in violence in Austin we saw between 2016 and 2018, Nonviolence Chicago continued to deepen our impact in the Chicago community throughout 2018. Partnering with Chicago CRED, we participated in a pilot of the 7/15 FLIP program where we provided a stipend to participants in Austin to act as peace ambassadors on blocks most prone to violence. We trained them in Nonviolence and conflict mediation, and closely supervised by Nonviolence Chicago Outreach Workers, these ambassadors were able to significantly increase the peace in their neighborhoods. We saw a 52% reduction in homicides; a 40% reduction in non-fatal shootings; and a 41% reduction in number of shooting incidents from the same time in 2017 in the areas where FLIP workers were stationed. This program was so successful it has been expanded for 2019 to include more neighborhoods.
For the third year in a row, Chicago saw double digit percentage decreases in shootings and homicides. Nonviolence Chicago and the collaborations we helped forge with Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P) with Metropolitan Family Services, Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI) with Heartland Alliance, and Flat-Lining violence Increasing Peace (FLIP) with Chicago CRED have been key players in these reductions. By building and maintaining strong partnerships with philanthropic, government, corporate and law enforcement partners, Nonviolence Chicago was able to increase the programs and opportunities we offered participants in 2019. As an example, Nonviolence Chicago added a Workforce Development program called FLIP Forward. FLIP Forward is a 16-week workforce development program that incorporates the principles of nonviolence along with teaching participants both soft and hard job skills necessary to enter the workforce or to continue to other educational opportunities. Two unique components are a mental health addition that addresses PTSD in participants and opportunities to intern with job training programs before graduation in hopes that they will have a better idea of what they would like to do with their future.
Since the Shelter in Place order took effect on March 20 in Illinois, Nonviolence Chicago has been working harder than ever to spread education and resources to Austin, West Garfield Park, and Back of the Yards, all while continuing to mediate conflict, respond to shootings, provide trauma-informed care to victims and keep the peace. Our continued support is more essential than ever at this crucial moment to keep our communities safe amid the dual public health crises of COVID-19 and gun violence. Not only does violence not stop under quarantine—but so far in Chicago, over 70% of the reported deaths have been African Americans from disinvested communities like the ones we serve. To step up to our new challenge of keeping our communities safe during the pandemic, we are collaborating with our CP4P partners as well as other community organizations to distribute hygiene kits, supplies, groceries, and food to our communities every week. Nonviolence Chicago also worked with Chicago CRED and the City of Chicago to produce and distribute double-sided flyers with COVID-19 safety tips on one side and gun violence safety tips on the other to hotspots in our areas and educate our communities about both of these public health crises.
To continue to adapt our response during this time, we launched our summer violence reduction strategy early. Through our partnership with Chicago CRED and CP4P, we are giving a stipend to some participants to keep their own corners safe. This Summer Hotspot Strategy gives our participants the tools to keep their neighborhoods safe which are hot spots for violence based on data. Each participant is given a uniform, trained in conflict mediation, Nonviolence and COVID-19 safety and will join the front lines of gun violence and COVID-19 prevention. Nonviolence Chicago has been on this front line since we learned about the virus and we will continue our work which is essential to the safety and security of the community for as long as it takes.