UCAN, Breakthrough & INVC Talk Community Violence Intervention Efforts on Chicago’s West Side

INVC Workforce Specialist Jalil King, a father of two who struggled with the impacts of violence and trauma until he was introduced to INVC by an outreach worker, shares his experience going through READI Chicago’s re-entry pathway program and how he continues to build the “Beloved Community” through his current work at INVC.

It was standing-room only at a recent community violence intervention (CVI) advocacy meeting co-hosted by UCAN, Breakthrough Urban Ministries (Breakthrough), and the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago (INVC) on Wednesday, September 13, 2023. The three organizations convened the meeting to discuss their CVI efforts in their respective neighborhoods of North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park, and Austin.

CVI leaders from throughout Chicago’s West Side attended the event at the UCAN Nichols Center in North Lawndale. Alderwomen Monique Scott (24th Ward) and Emma Mitts (37th Ward), as well as Cook County Commissioner Tara Stamps (1st District) were in attendance. Staff members from the offices of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd District), IL Senate President Don Harmon (39th District), and IL State Rep. Jawaharial Williams (10th District) also participated.

UCAN, Breakthrough, and INVC are three of 13 Chicago organizations that make up Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), a coalition of non-profit organizations focused on gun violence prevention across 27 Chicago neighborhoods.

The focus of the meeting was to discuss the many successes of the three organizations — one of which came in the testimony of INVC Workforce Specialist Jalil King, a father of two who struggled with the impacts of violence and trauma until he was introduced to INVC by an outreach worker. He went through READI Chicago’s re-entry pathway program and continues to build the “Beloved Community” through his current work at INVC.

“It got to the point where I wasn’t even thinking about the important things in life,” said King, who says that CVI program trainings saved his life. “The cognitive behavioral training opens your mind to actually think and process information. I know the block is cool. We can talk about the past all day, but what’s more important — your kids, your future, your financial stability, generational wealth.”

The meeting was also an opportunity, as policymakers head into budget season at the city, county, state and federal levels, to discuss with elected officials many of the unmet needs CVI workers experience in the field, the biggest of which is funding.

Data shows the CVI community will need an estimated $1.2 billion over the course of 15 years in order to scale efforts across the city.

“All three of our organizations are committed to demonstrating that violence prevention at scale and with the right financial resources can really transform the lives of individuals and the entire community,” said UCAN President & CEO Christa Hamilton.

UCAN is a partner of the North Lawndale Collaborative, a coalition of CVI organizations including the Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, Chicago CRED, and READI Chicago, focused on serving at least 50 percent of the highest risk residents with outreach, counseling, employment, education, and other critical resources.

“By serving a critical mass,” said Hamilton, “the collaboratives’ goal is to reach a tipping point that breaks the cycle of retaliatory shootings and drive-by shootings.”

Pictured left to right, UCAN President & CEO Christa Hamilton, Breakthrough Executive Director Yolanda Fields, and INVC Founder & Executive Director Teny Gross discuss their many successes in community violence intervention efforts on Chicago’s West Side.

INVC Founder & Executive Director Teny Gross expounded upon the $1.2 billion figure, explaining that the ask is far less than other groups, and has a better return on investment.

“I’m going to go back to Springfield in a month and I’m going to see the real estate people, I’m going to see the police union, I’m going to see the development of this and that,” said Gross. “Now, we’re not trying to divide people. But do you want to pay for a hotel called Cook County Jail? Or do you want to invest in our people?”

Breakthrough Executive Director Yolanda Fields stressed the important need for partnerships and collaboration with community residents.

“As privileged as we feel as community violence intervention workers, we recognize that we cannot do it alone,” said Fields. “And so, as a community, we must collaborate. All of us own the responsibility of changing our community as we transform our own lives.”

Fields also spoke about the need for funding flexibility in order to operate in communities in ways community-based organizations and residents think are best.

Alderwoman Scott, among others, pledged her support.

“I’m really honored to be in front of you guys because you do the work,” said Scott. “The love and the work I get in my community is being done by the many people that sit in this room. That’s what these programs are for.

“The many days that we have a shooting and nine females are shot, and the first people that are at my door are UCAN and Breakthrough and CRED, that means a lot to me. And that means a lot to the community because that means that you show up.

“That’s the work that I make sure that as an elected official that we continue to fund because it’s important.”