University of Chicago launches training academy for violence prevention workers: ‘You’re made to make history’

The decision to launch the initiative came after the pandemic gave way to a spike in gun violence, leading to a flood of public dollars that some nonprofits and community groups were ill-equipped to handle.

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Peacekeepers walk the streets of Roseland and West Pullman Thursday, making a nightly canvass of hot spots for violence.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

As public funding flows into street-level violence intervention efforts, the University of Chicago launched a first-of-its-kind initiative Monday aimed at giving anti-violence workers across the country the tools to properly manage and scale up operations.

The decision to start the Community Violence Intervention Leadership Academy came after the COVID-19 pandemic gave way to a spike in gun violence, leading to a flood of public dollars that some nonprofits and community groups were ill-equipped to handle.

“In order for our brothers and sisters from around the country to be able to properly manage this money — to be able to document the things that were actually happening properly — they needed some extensive management training,” Dr. Chico Tillmon, director of the CVI Leadership Academy, told a packed house at the Chicago Theological Seminary.

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A cohort of violence prevention leaders from 21 cities are now participating in a six-month course that includes hands-on training and focuses on program management, staff retention and data literacy.

Participants must submit a final project applying what they’ve learned to real-world scenarios, and leading universities will ultimately research the program’s impact on reducing violence.

Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, told the Sun-Times that Chicago has been at the “frontier of innovation” when it comes to violence intervention, though she acknowledged “it’s still a nascent field that has not had the level of resources or opportunity to continue to learn.”

Violence prevention groups have recently seen a huge infusion of funding, but Ander noted “it’s a drop in the bucket relative to the need that’s out there” — and far smaller than what’s invested in policing every year.

Charlie Beck, the former longtime police chief in Los Angeles who briefly led the Chicago Police Department, insisted that law enforcement officials need to embrace community organizations to address the entrenched violence that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color.

“I support what you do, I support your work. And more than that, I know that it is the answer to the problem that America faces,” Beck told a crowd that included Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

The new program is part of a larger initiative led by the university that already includes the Policing Leadership Academy, which teaches key lessons from New York and Los Angeles and aims to cut violence in hot spots throughout America. Its funders include billionaires Ken Griffin, Michael Sacks, and Tom and Susan Dunn.

Erica Ford, a human rights worker from New York City who is among the program’s advisers, noted that violence intervention workers have “run to the trauma” for decades without the same resources as cops. She framed the Community Violence Intervention Academy as the culmination of that work.

“You’re made to make history,” Ford said. “So you’re not just sitting here in the first cohort to be the first cohort, but you’re going out in those streets to change things.”

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