Helping those affected by community violence

I attended a lovely event for Bright Star Community Outreach last night. The event commemorates the launch of a new Turn Center to provide trauma-informed services. Congratulations to Pastor Chris Harris and his colleagues in this important effort. Congratulations also to my University of Chicago Medical Center and Northwestern Hospital colleagues who have taken lead roles in this partnership, particularly my SSA colleague Deborah Gorman Smith and her team, who lead the effort in our school.


The event was held at Martin Luther King College Prep at 45th St. and South Drexel Boulevard in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Bronzeville is by no means Chicago’s toughest neighborhood. But it’s tough enough. Many in the audience last night had lost children, siblings, partners, parents, or other loved-ones to gun violence. Hadya Pendleton was only the most well-known of the precious people who have been lost.

This memorial to Ms. Pendleton may be the first thing that catches your eye as you enter the school’s front door. Pardon my poor photographic composition. You get the point there.

Cable TV pundits commonly charge that African-Americans communities are reluctant to acknowledge or face the high rate of “black-on-black crime” occurring in Chicago and across the United States.Remember this picture when you hear such claims. That charge displays the insulting psychological distance between these pundits and the communities they are discussing. Nothing could be further from the truth. No topic is more widely-discussed than the incredible toll of gun violence among Chicago youth.

People are desperate to make progress in reducing the violence. I hope and expect that the new Turn Center will be helpful in this effort. During the ceremony, Pastor Harris commented: “Don’t talk about the violence until you are doing something to reduce this violence.”Indeed.

More pics below the fold. Those who wish to donate can do so here.





Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

8 thoughts on “Helping those affected by community violence”

  1. Indeed. Further, nothing frustrates me more than to hear the words "they need to help themselves". To the extent that this is a way of arguing that government interventions don't work, that needs to be said instead, and with specificity as to what programs don't work. An ideological, categorical opposition to all government intervention is paranoid and delusional.

    But the fact is that people are doing the best they can, or know how to do. And this includes the people engaging in behaviors that are causing problems: the crime, the neglectfulness, etc. In my work with poor, undereducated parents, I see that they all love their kids, and want the best for them. They just sometimes didn't know how. They lacked a certain skill-set to do things like provide a cognitively enriched environment, speaking with certain affect and tones that better reinforce familial bonds, or following through with structure and placing appropriate and consistent demands.

    But there are clear reasons for their skill deficits. It isn't some immoral choice they are making. Often it is because that was the way they were raised, or that certain traumas increase stress – anything from relationship issues to working demeaning low-wage jobs. The causality is incredibly complex, and specific to every family.

    There are a vast array of policy interventions – from the micro-level parent training, which to be effective would be intensive and costly, to the macro-level decisions about neighborhood design, wage, tax, property policy. In the middle might be specific community-level interventions such as recreation centers, parent and job training, etc. Effective macro-interventions would have enormous long-term benefits, as things like functional families or safer streets make micro-interventions unnecessary. However, in the present there are people in real need, and specific deficits are driving very real issues.

    I imagine the answer then, is simply both, adjusted according to necessity. What we don't need is claptrap about "personal responsibility", which is neither deterministic, parsimonious with fact, or causally coherent. You might as well say that hurricanes need to be more responsible and stay offshore.

    1. The reason for calling on them to help themselves is for their own self respect, which they cannot acquire while admitting that the necessary resources do not exist in their local or ethnic community. Invoke Malcom X as well as MLK.

      1. "they cannot acquire while admitting that the necessary resources do not exist in their local or ethnic community"
        I disagree with the premise. Self-respect comes from having had the resources to be successful, be they financial, emotional, cognitive, social, etc. You must understand, I am a determinist, so we may simply disagree about the science. People don't make themselves.

        1. Don't feel bad, I wondered the exact same thing. That's a less often seen photo of MLK Jr., afaik.

          I can see why they used it though, it is lovely. I'm still sorry he got killed, too.

          There are so many strands to this issue. Please do keep us apprised of what approaches people figure out in Chicago.

          I read the piece — I am so glad to see it is going to offer counseling! (Maybe that was obvious to everyone else… but I wasn't sure if this was a medical thing primarily.) It's funny, a friend of a friend was posting on FB the other day, all about how they were raised not to dwell on things, and to sort of sublimate and keep going… and I thought, that's exactly what I *don't* believe in. I think we should pay *more* attention to children's emotional lives, and to our own probably too. I didn't say it though. I don't really know them. I wish I could donate to this.

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