By Vaughn Bryant
In Chicago, 764 people were murdered in 2016, a 58 percent increase over 2015. That number would have been even greater without the invaluable work of street outreach workers. In cities such as Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago, street outreach workers have been indispensable in diffusing violent situations, helping to prevent such situations from escalating, and also quelling demands for retaliation.
Their skill set is a special one. Seasoned workers are consummate mediators, able to build trusted personal and group relationships with perpetrators and victims of violence, as well as their family members, friends and the broader community. Simultaneously they must cultivate the trust of law enforcement, respecting their authority and not overstepping bounds.
Street outreach work has not always been valued. Misunderstandings about its role and how it should function have sometimes caused friction with police and worked against the full effectiveness of outreach. To help improve that dynamic, Chicago's Communities Partnering 4 Peace initiative has launched the Metropolitan Peace Academy.
Communities Partnering 4 Peace (CP4P), convened by Metropolitan Family Services, is a framework that provides a comprehensive, long-term approach to reducing violence and gang activity among the individuals and communities it serves. Its work is rooted in nonviolence, trauma-informed care, hyper-local collaboration and restorative justice practices.
CP4P has gathered eight of Chicago's most respected community-based organizations working in street outreach to work in nine of the city's most at-risk communities in order to 1) help reduce shootings and homicides, 2) create and reclaim safe community spaces, and 3) professionalize the field of community outreach.
As the focus of goal #3 Metropolitan Family Services is collaborating with its CP4P and other experts to develop and implement the Metropolitan Peace Academy (MPA). The goal of MPA is to professionalize and strengthen the fields of street outreach and community violence prevention. This will be accomplished by:
MPA will welcome its first cohort of 25 professionals on January 30, 2018.
The pilot curriculum, featuring 144 hours of study resulting in certification, will be launched in partnership with Northeastern University, and will include the topics below:
Daily Operational Protocols
Interactions with Law Enforcement
A Day in the Life of an Outreach Worker
To measure the Academy's impact, several measures will be implemented. They include tracking the number of staff and amount of training provided, as well as conducting skills transfer and training satisfaction surveys with trainees to assess the training's effectiveness and help identify improvements. In addition, a training observation tool will focus on fidelity to training content for coaching and training improvement over time. Lastly, trainers also will receive support to enhance methods for delivering content for maximum impact of staff knowledge and skills in practice.
MPA's short-term goals include finalizing its design and establishing infrastructure to operationalize by April 2018, offering one to two classes yearly that collectively will graduate up to 100 students yearly; and adding classes in non-violence, trauma-informed care, restorative justice practices and interaction with law enforcement.
Longer-term goals include offering courses to a wider variety of community organizations, expanding the curriculum to include youth programs, and providing non-violence training to professionals seeking continued development and City College students.
Ultimately, by helping to professionalize street outreach, the Metropolitan Peace Academy hopes to strengthen the impact of this much-needed work, and in the process help further safer communities throughout Chicago.
If you are an employer, you can hire young people at risk. If you are a community leader, you can help improve police-community relations. If you are a health care provider, you can support trauma-informed care to gun violence victims. If you are a funder, you can support any one of these efforts. Whatever you do, your voice matters when you speak up in support of policies that can make our neighborhoods safer. Reach out to learn more.