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'We want change': Meet the team tasked with solving violence in Grand Rapids

Meet the team tasked with solving violence in Grand Rapids
Posted at 9:39 PM, Nov 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-10 22:31:48-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids leaders revealed the people selected to run its Cure Violence program on Tuesday. 

Cure Violence is a community-led program that uses a public health model to prevent, treat and reduce crime in high-risk areas. 

The team consists of nine people: three violence interrupters, three outreach workers, one trauma-informed care counselor, one site supervisor and one site director. 

The Urban League of West Michigan was selected this summer to lead the program.

The program’s first-year costs are about $652,000. Money from the city, Spectrum Health, and the Urban League have covered the expenses. The hope is that Cure Violence is a three-year program, but full funding for the following years has yet to be secured. 

Research indicates Cure Violence, when implemented properly, is effective. The program reportedly reduced shootings by 63 percent in New York City, 48 percent in its first week in Chicago, and 30 percent in Philadelphia. 

“When you get out there and you’re talking to people, you can see that they’re hurting,” said Steven Jackson, site director. “They’re reaching out; they’re asking for somebody to step in and help.”

Jackson added that Cure Violence takes a three-pronged approach to reduce incidents and relies on neighbors to join its team, like Kareem McKinney.

“Cure Violence is basically detecting the ones in the community that are committing the violence,” said McKinney, an outreach specialist. “Interrupt that violence by using the connections in the streets and around the community that we have to basically talk to and see what they want, see what they’re missing, and do our best to get those to them. [Then] make them start to think there’s different things or different ways to think.”

McKinney says some of the city’s past violence can be attributed to his younger self. He wanted to help solve those problems, which is why he applied to the program.

According to Jackson, the site director, the team’s efforts will focus on the city’s third ward. Members will try to reach young men ages 14 to 24 years old.

Last summer, community members renewed efforts for the program following racial-injustice protests and record levels of deadly violence.

According to the city, it saw significant increases in violent crime in 2020, including a 92.9 percent jump in homicides, compared to the year before.

The city’s murder and burglary rates have dropped in 2021, but it’s still seeing a rise in aggravated assaults and robberies.

Sharrahae Dean says her nephew's shooting death pushed her to fix the issues facing her neighborhood.

“It’s just shaken our world up,” said Dean, a violence interrupter. “It has just really changed our lives a lot, but it makes you realize that we need help, that our community is in trouble, and we need help and I’m here to serve our community.”

For the last three weeks, members have been learning the program and slowly introducing themselves to the area. The first day of their full outreach is scheduled to be on Friday.

“I just hope that the community is willing to accept us with open arms because we’re here for them and we walk the same walk that they walk,” said Johnny Burress, an outreach specialist.

“We can’t do it alone," added Dean. "If you live in that community, you should want change just as well as we want change.”

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