UChicago Launches Initiative to Help Combat Gun Violence Across America

Members of the CVI Leadership Academy cohort with officials and dignitaries (Photos by Tacuma Roeback).

A unique initiative from Chicago strives to tackle the agonizingly complex issue of gun violence at home and in metropolises across America. 

On Monday, the University of Chicago Community Violence Intervention Leadership Academy welcomed its first cohort of leaders from 21 cities nationwide. These leaders are coming together to transform communities of color by addressing the cycles of violence that occur there. 

CVILA, a first-of-its-kind initiative part of the University of Chicago Community Safety Leadership Academies, strives to equip senior and executive leaders working in community violence intervention with the skills and knowledge needed to alter their communities and the organizations they lead.

“These CVI leaders live and work in the communities they serve, and they are often in the best position to disrupt cycles of violence. By investing in their skills, CVILA will help communities across this country become safer and more resilient,” said Chico Tillmon, Director of the CVI Leadership Academy, in a statement.

These leaders will undergo an intensive six-month curriculum overseen by expert practitioners and scholars. It will include immersive training in program management, workforce retention, data literacy, evaluation techniques and a host of other critical competencies. 

The program will culminate with a community-focused capstone project where members apply their newfound expertise to real-world challenges. 

“When you think about individuals that do this important work, most of the work was birthed out of either trauma, devastation or pain in the community,” Tillmon explained. “In many cases, an individual lost a loved one, a friend or was just frustrated or fed up with the violence happening, and they moved to do something.”

“However, the challenge is that many of these individuals were never trained in how to run an organization,” Tillmon said, “So I want to ensure that people in Chicago that’s doing this important work, are equipped with the tools, skills and the business acumen to run a nonprofit organization.”

The Impact of Community Violence Intervention

But CVILA is not just about training leaders but also measuring its impact. 

Researchers from leading universities will conduct qualitative and quantitative studies to gauge how effectively the program reduces violence. CVILA will also undertake a comprehensive assessment of the training’s effectiveness.

At Monday’s launch event, held at the Chicago Theological Seminary, notable dignitaries such as Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, former acting Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department Charlie Beck and former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter expounded on why CVILA is essential to fostering safer communities. 

Former Acting Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department Charlie Beck at the Community Violence Intervention Leadership Academy event.

Beck, also the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said that community intervention groups are the answer to reducing violence. He emphasized the importance of police departments working collaboratively with community members, citing his work with the LAPD in initiating a gang intervention academy with residents.

“If you want to solve the problem of violence in the community,” said Beck, “you have to work with people in the community.”

Later, Beck told The Chicago Defender that community violence intervention doesn’t take away from police investigations of shootings, carjackings or other violent crimes. 

“This approach is intended to get at the root of that crime,” he said, “In other words, to take guns out of people’s hands voluntarily instead of by arrest. If CVI can get young people to lay down guns, I’m 100% behind that. And everybody else should be, too.”

Raoul said he’s optimistic when asked whether community violence intervention can be effective in Chicago. 

“There’s a change in leadership on the fifth floor. There’s a change in leadership at the Chicago Police Department, which I’m very excited about,” Raoul said. 

“In Larry Snelling, you have somebody coming on board who has strong community ties, and he’s well respected by the rank and file Chicago Police Department. He’s a national expert on the use of force.”

Raoul echoed Beck’s sentiment about why the police and community members must work together. 

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul speaks with an attendee at the CVILA event at the Chicago Theological Seminary.

CVI can be effective in Chicago to the extent that Snelling elevates leaders like him who believe that “it’s not just about how you use your gun and how you use your handcuffs, it’s how you engage with the community and how you leverage the resources and community,” he said. 

“It’s not either or, it’s both,” he said. 

Tillmon added to the chorus.

“The only way we’re going to stop the violence is if all of us collaboratively work together. It’s not going to be one individual group. It’s not going to be the police. It’s not going to be the mayor. It’s not going to be the governor,” he said. “It has to be all of us working together, trying to make a difference in our community.”


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