To reduce violence in the city, the answers lie in the same place the acts occur.
It’s the community that understands the trauma that drives a split-second decision to shoot a gun. It’s the community that knows how that violent act rips through families in ways that create lifelong emotional and physical pain.
The cycle has been consistent every year, and we all know it spins faster in the summer months.
It’s certainly nothing new to call for greater investment in communities to improve jobs, schools, housing, legal advocacy, substance use, trauma, health care, mental health, entrepreneurship, mentoring and recreation. And we welcome President Biden’s pledge to invest millions of federal dollars into communities to transform the conditions that give rise to violence and poverty.
But to ensure that we align our actions with our intentions — to achieve the result of improved public safety and better quality of life for all — the power structure must change.
Public funding must reach the organizations based in the communities that have employees and governing boards who are primarily from those same neighborhoods.
Like our respective nonprofits in North Lawndale, these organizations exist. They just need a greater share of the dollars already being allocated to these efforts.
Too often, the majority of federal money doesn’t actually go to groups that live, work and worship in the community. The lion’s share of government funding goes to groups headquartered downtown led by people that commute from the suburbs or other neighborhoods not directly impacted by the violence.
This is as true as it is difficult to write. Each year we continue to hope, in spite of continued trends, that our elected officials will demonstrate confidence in our communities by resourcing local groups designed, led and managed in the community by neighborhood residents. Yet, time and time again, resources are entrusted to agencies that are designed, led and managed downtown.
These agencies, although well-intentioned, manage the funding and operations that are supposed to benefit our communities. But they instead reinforce the dangerously errant proposition that those outside of our community are better-suited to lead our community than those who love, live in and understand our community firsthand and best. This outside-in management is neither sustainable nor effective, and is ultimately disrespectful to the community.
This funding structure also places community agencies under great stress as they are deprived of the resources any strong business needs to adequately manage, operate and scale their services. Critical investments in community infrastructure go to downtown agencies instead of building up the local community. This results in lower wages and fewer employment opportunities in neighborhoods as management jobs are taken downtown.
The worst part is that this age-old funding structure puts the wrong people in the driver’s seat. It’s the community where the perspective and lived experience lies. It’s the community where clients can easily attend service appointments. It’s the community that we haven’t fully invested in yet.
This isn’t just about us. We collaborate with partners in Englewood, Austin, Little Village and East Garfield Park. When it comes to public safety — as our neighborhoods go, the city goes.
We can’t read the daily headlines about crime and then move on with our cup of coffee and our day. We don’t even need the headlines to tell us what’s going on. We live this every day. Anxiety and fear are constant. We have hope, but our hope needs help.
Perhaps we can all feel a shared sense of hope if we can agree that what we’re proposing is something new. Something that can work. Something that’s worth trying.
If we want to save our neighborhoods, we need to ensure that public dollars support the people on the ground who will save them.
Rodney D. Brown is the executive director and chief executive officer of New Covenant Community Development Corp., which encourages small business ownership and economic development opportunities for low-income and underserved minority residents.
Cliff Nellis is executive director of the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, a nonprofit that provides holistic community-based legal representation for individuals, 24 and under, from the North Lawndale neighborhood.