Leah Korn contributed to this post.
On March 9, the Governance Studies program at Brookings hosted a panel to discuss the prevalence of gun violence in urban communities like Chicago, a city that has more homicides than New York and Los Angeles combined. The panel was moderated by nonresident senior fellow and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and included Roger and Wendy Jones of the Youth Peace Center of Roseland, as well as several young members of Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Diversity), a nonprofit organization that provides advice, guidance, job skills training, and leadership opportunities to young men living in at-risk Chicago neighborhoods.
Arne Duncan kicked off the discussion by describing the frightening realities that young men, in particular, face every day in Chicago. In 2016, Chicago had a record 764 homicides and over 4,000 shootings, representing a 50 percent increase over the past five years. Duncan recounted why he decided to return to Chicago after serving as secretary of education during the Obama administration, and gave context to the gun violence problem in Chicago. “By far the hardest part of my job was the number of kids who were shot and killed,” Duncan said.
The CRED panelists all had different reasons for joining the organization, and for seeking assistance in putting their lives on a new trajectory. Malik Tiger gave an account of being shot six times. He described the experience as transformative and explained how it encouraged him to make a difference in his own life and within his neighborhood. “I don’t want my mother to have to bury me. It was completely life-changing,” Tiger described.
Jervon Hicks is a life coach at CRED, meaning he acts as a “big-brother” figure to the program’s young participants, offering personal and professional support at all hours of the day. Hicks discussed the realities of what he called a gun addiction among some young Chicago men, explaining that “we look at the drug addictions, but guns are an actual addiction out there. Just by hearing the shots alone some of these guys get enthused.” He explained why Chicago CRED is such a vital program in helping at-risk men defy the societal norms they grew up with and avoid or overcome the pull of violence.
Chicago CRED has been successful in helping young men build better lives for themselves. Damien Flounder, another participant in Chicago CRED, explained the impact the program has had for him. He received a high-school diploma, something he did not think he was capable of. “I honestly didn’t think I could get my high school diploma,” Flounder said. “I dropped out of school at sophomore year…we were at war…school was the last thing on my mind.”
Duncan also discussed how Chicago youth are joining forces with others such as the survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, to end gun violence, bridging the gap between race, and socioeconomic status within the movement. Duncan described a recent meeting between Chicago high school students and Parkland survivors as “transformational on both sides.”
Overall, the discussion focused on the impact a program like Chicago CRED has on creating and fostering opportunity for young people facing gun violence every day in their own neighborhoods. Malik Tiger described the necessity of programs like Chicago CRED by explaining, “We need this program to keep our youth, to keep us alive.”
For more, see the full event.