Mar 04, 2023 6:00 AM
ELYRIA — A plan to address community violence at its core got a financial boost from a $200,000 grant from the Nord Family Foundation, Elyria Mayor Frank Whitfield announced Friday.
Speaking at his monthly community violence prevention meeting at South Park Recreation Center, Whitfield said the $200,000 grant in partnership with the Lorain County Urban League over the next two years will fund solutions to violence, addressing it as a public health issue.
While not enough to finance an entire project, it is enough funding to get the effort started.
Elyria and Lorain are still waiting to hear back on a separate $1 million grant application to Ohio.
“It’s taking the approach that violence is a public health issue as opposed to treating violence like just a law enforcement issue or just a school issue," Whitfield said. "It’s really looking at violence as a contagion the same way we dealt with the pandemic.”
Whitfield said violence can be isolated and treated in a fashion similar to the way COVID-19 is fought.
“When we hear violence happening in the community we focus on it, we identify it, we isolate it so it doesn’t spread. We provide folks who are affected the treatment they need,” the mayor said.
Elyria hopes to implement a program using the violence interrupter model, a program that has been used in Cleveland and Toledo and across the country known as Cure Violence.
The key to its success is working with individuals who have a credible role in the community with young people that can calm violent situations before they get out of hand.
Damian Calvert of Cleveland has been working in community outreach in the implementation of the violence interrupter model for seven years.
“In Cleveland what we did was, we understood trauma and trauma-informed care approach of dealing with violence,” Calvert said.
Partnering with recreation centers, they worked with trauma coaches and offered various services including de-escalation training bringing programs like mindfulness and yoga to the urban core to address parts of the city most at risk for violence.
Working with youths in recreation centers enabled violence interrupters to build trust and get them into a supportive environment they may not have at home. Calvert said the program also works in coordination with Cleveland Metropolitan School District where gang issues have been present. Violence interrupters also work sharing their stories with youths and their past histories of being incarcerated.
Through that trust established in outreach, Calvert said youths reach out to his team, who can respond directly by de-escalating violent situations.
Whitfield said after receiving the news about the Nord Family Foundation grant, they are working to determine how the additional resources will fit into their program while educating the community on the framework of the violence interrupter model.
“We’re starting from ground zero. We’re starting from scratch here. So we’re now in the phase of trying to educate the public on what a violence interrupter is and why that’s important and why it’s important to have credible messengers like yourself (Calvert) interacting with these young folks and how important it is in the connection between law enforcement and how you interact and how you have to maintain credibility on both fronts,” Whitfield said.
Calvert said a very successful way Cleveland has been able to engage the public in their role has been holding events in barbershops and beauty parlors in coordination with police, providing a forum to meet members of the community and explain what a violence interrupter does and building goodwill.
Known as “beauty, badges and bonding" the events are community conversations around programming. More importantly, Calvert said, the events help build a new narrative about his team, many of whom are ex-offenders, repairing something they once had a hand in destroying.
“This also became not only an education point in the city but for us to kind of seize the narrative. So that I could say to my peers who had issues with us having relationships with law enforcement, to kind of define our position of being helpers and kind of define our position to rebuild," Calvert noted.
In working with police, violence interrupters engage directly with law enforcement, enabling them to gather information to help defuse violence and regroup with their mediation and de-escalation strategy.
Whitfield has been holding monthly community violence prevention meetings since 2022, working to find a community approach to address violence.
The goal was to create a forum where everyone felt welcome, but the mayor said that the city has suffered in the meantime.
“We’ve had people who’ve been at these meetings who have been shot and killed. We’ve had people in these meetings who’ve gotten incarcerated. And I’m sure you know it’s not all going to be successes and wins. It’s our goal to do our part and try to save as many lives as we can,” Whitfield said. “Because what else can we do? Just watch it happen? We’ve got two options: We can just keep watching what’s happening and hope something changes or we can do our part to try to make a difference, and that’s what this group is about.”
Contact Kevin Martin at (440) 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMartinCT.