Let’s build a world without the root causes of violence

We must grasp the urgency of this moment — harnessing every available resource — to prevent even one more gun violence tragedy, one more grieving mother, one more lost child.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker shakes hands with Chris Patterson

Gov. J.B. Pritzker shakes hands with Chris Patterson after signing a bill in Dec. 2021 which will disburse $250 million in funding to reduce violence and provide trauma services.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Growing up in Chicago’s Cabrini Green Homes, I experienced gun violence — a trauma far too many young people continue to endure.

I know firsthand the impact of intergenerational trauma stemming from domestic violence, community violence, substance use and poverty. Yet, I also received hope and a sense of purpose from caring adults in my family and community. They gave me a sense that I could do anything I set my mind to.

After being shot, leaving my children for a prison sentence and burying close friends whose lives were cut short by gun violence, I rediscovered hope and path to contribute to this world.

Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” While I was once broken, I now work to heal, repair and rebuild myself and my community.

I am not alone on the journey from hope to hopelessness and back to hope. I have been traveling the state, listening to community members and advocates who have seen lives shattered by violence — not just in Chicago but in East St. Louis, Peoria, Urbana and Rockford.

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I will never forget one woman from Danville who has dedicated her career to educating children about gun violence prevention, while at the same time healing from the trauma of witnessing a close friend be shot to death in a grocery store. Each shooting inflicts trauma on entire neighborhoods, and this pain shapes the experience of too many young people growing up across our state.

Together, we have a responsibility to address this trauma and to prevent it.

Sadly, and tragically, gun violence has escalated nationwide, including in Illinois.

Outreach leaders bring lived experiences to their work. That experience may have been confronting community violence, incarceration, mental health, substance use disorders or other experiences resulting in trauma.

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I closely observed the success of this approach over the last 10 years working on the ground providing this type of outreach in Chicago communities. I bring that experience to my role as assistant secretary for firearm violence prevention at the Illinois Department of Human Services. I am committed to scaling up what works and putting resources into community organizations that are the experts in reaching those most at risk and connecting them with lifesaving services.

That is why the latest investments being made to address violence in Illinois have the potential to be so impactful. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Reimagine Public Safety Act into law, which is designed to prevent and mitigate the harm of gun violence. This three-year commitment of $250 million targets investments in 42 communities across the state that have endured the highest rates of gun violence, providing resources for violence prevention and interruption programs, with a specific emphasis on street outreach.

Right now, the Illinois Department of Human Services is advancing programming with over 43 trusted community service providers. They will provide direct conflict mediation, trauma and crisis services, and connections to other essential social services, including employment and housing.

By lifting the voices of those with lived experience, we will address the root causes of violence and the trauma that follows it. Over the summer, our trusted partners will engage young people with professionals who know them by name, who have earned their trust and want to see them thrive. We know how and we will prevent violence.

As I bear witness to the deep commitment and coordination of Illinois communities working to prevent violence, I enter the summer with a great sense of hope and purpose. We are collectively reimagining public safety to ensure every child can accomplish anything they set their mind to. And while it is easier to build strong children, we also have the tools through street outreach to repair broken men and women.

Let’s build a world where no person is left behind and where people don’t have to learn their hardest lessons after living behind prison walls.

We must grasp the urgency of this moment — harnessing every available resource — to prevent even one more gun violence tragedy, one more grieving mother or one more lost child.

Illinois needs you to join this effort, spread the word about resources in your community and ensure all those who need our services are connected. Please join this movement and learn more at www.dhs.illinois.gov/rpsa.

Chris Patterson is the assistant secretary at the Illinois Department of Human Services and oversees the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention for the Pritzker administration.

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