Just last year gun violence was a constant headline in the news. I found myself struggling with the barrage of violence throughout our community. I wasn’t alone. Many people – from mothers and fathers to business leaders to faith members to community servants – throughout our region were having the same conversation. All were asking: How can we prevent the escalation of violence among young people in our region?
As a common table for the community, United Way has a history of convening multiple sectors and organizations around issues that impact local people. We live our mission to help people live their best possible lives. This is why United Way was called on by key partners to play a role in bringing people together to prevent violence. I believe to move forward we must embrace an aligned approach. While there are many excellent community and faith groups working hard each day to do their part to end violence, activities that are independent of other interventions, such as mental health and basic needs services, may not achieve the end goal of reducing violent deaths.
We don’t have a crystal ball to determine the mix of interventions that would be most effective to achieve our goal of decreasing violence. That’s why we are working together as a region. The St. Louis Area Violence Prevention Collaborative was born to convene area scholars, medical professionals, nonprofit leaders and citizens to take a hard look at gun violence in our region. This partnership between United Way and Washington University aims to unite the efforts of 20 local initiatives using evidence-based practices to prevent violence.
The purpose of the collaborative is to foster greater awareness and to lift up promising practices that help us as region write a different narrative about St. Louis. The current narrative as a city of violence impacts our ability to attract and retain talent and new businesses to our region. It perpetuates negative perceptions about a city that has so much to be proud of.
This narrative also dictates the future of our youth by backing them into a corner. These young people absolutely can be saved if we work differently. It’s amazing how prophecy works: When you tell someone over and over this is how their life will be, they can easily fall into the trap. Core to any solution is helping young people caught in this cycle believe that there is reason to hope and they have options, beyond the destructive ones that seem most obvious.
We are mobilizing organizations and communities around alternatives to violence.
We are focused on prevention. We, as a community, must provide options and alternatives for those who feel they have no choice other than to resort to violence.
We can do better for our region. We can work together to create better solutions for our young people, and in turn, a better life for all of us.