Violence is the No. 1 cause of death among young people in many cities, and minority groups are disproportionately affected. But violence doesn't have to be part of the status quo in inner-city neighborhoods. That's where Cure Violence, formerly known as Cease Fire, comes in.
Cure Violence's executive director, Gary Slutkin, M.D., believes that violence is a learned behavior and that, just like other epidemics, it can be controlled by changing community norms.
"Violence behaves like a contagious disease," Slutkin says. "One person shoots someone, and someone else retaliates: It's like an infection, spreading, spreading, spreading. But the infectious agent is invisible; it's in the mind."
Launched in 2000 under the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, Cure Violence engages the community to work with young people at high risk of being involved in violence to provide on-the-spot alternatives to shooting and change social norms about gun violence.
Perhaps the most vital component of Cure Violence, violence interrupters and outreach workers are street-smart individuals who engage youth and mediate high-risk conflict. Many of these individuals are former gang members, eager to give back and help young people in their neighborhoods.
By working with community and government partners, Slutkin has seen a reduction in youth and gang violence. Cure Violence zones—the neighborhoods where Slutkin and his colleagues work—have shown lower rates of gun violence, even as more distant neighborhoods with similar demographics and base crime rates saw an increase in the number of shootings.
RWJF initially provided support to Cure Violence in 1999 through a grant from the Local Funding Partnership (LFP) program. Today, with additional funding from RWJF totaling close to $5 million, the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention is providing training and technical assistance to programs in several U.S. cities for the implementation of anti-violence programs based on the Cure Violence model. The project is funded by the Foundation's Vulnerable Populations Portfolio, which addresses health issues within their social context by finding new pathways to improved health for all Americans, especially those most vulnerable among us.