As Derrion Albert’s family prepares to lay him to rest tomorrow, life in some of Chicago’s worst neighborhoods will go on as usual. The 16-year-old honor student’s barbaric beating by a group of teens has left us all outraged and disgusted. The grainy but graphic video not only shows the life being beaten out of this boy, but all the other kids who stood by and watched this happen and did nothing, completely desensitized by the violence that has become a part of their daily existence.
Derrion’s death hasn’t stopped young Black kids from dodging bullets or ending their struggle to resist the temptation of joining a gang. Sadly, with 34 public school students killed last school year, it’s very possible that another 16-year-old will be murdered in the Chicago area before the end of the month. But despite the statistics, there are people working to end the violence. Tio Hardiman, director of Gang Mediation and Community Organizing at CeaseFire, an anti-violence group in Chicago, has spent years incorporating a specific model to prevent violence in various communities across Chicago. Hardiman spoke to ESSENCE.com about what techniques have worked, what’s going on with today’s teens, and whether or not Chicago is the right place for the 2012 Olympic games.
ESSENCE.COM: What does CeaseFire do for the Chicago community?
TIO HARDIMAN: We’ve created a model that we use to implement violence prevention programs in the community. We’re in the business of changing behavior and mindsets. We have five core components to our model. First, we have outreach workers and violence interrupters who are professionally trained to work with high risk youth on a daily basis. We have a community response where we hit the streets with the residents and faith-based leaders. We collaborate with these leaders to speak out against violence from the pulpit and be there to provide counseling to the families as we heal our communities. We have public education campaigns with strong messages. Lastly, we have a relationship with law enforcement and they provide us with data so we can see how much of an impact we’ve had on reducing violence.
ESSENCE.COM: Even the White House has recognized that your model works. So why aren’t there more CeaseFire workers preventing incidents throughout the state?
HARDIMAN: We’ve experienced an average of 28 to 83 percent reduction in shootings and homicides in the areas where we work. Every outreach worker has 15 clients who either has had a history of violence, been involved in a gang or busted for carrying a weapon. The only reason we can’t prevent more shootings is because we only work in 20 percent of the areas of Chicago that we need to work in which is all about funding.
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the area around where Derrion was killed like?
HARDIMAN: There has been a history of violence with the gangs in that area. They call it the Ville. You have some teenagers who come from Altgeld Gardens, which is a different community away from the school. There has been some fighting and gang recruitment going on. The boys who live at the Ville feel like no one should be coming into their area. This tension isn’t about drugs, it’s about territory.
ESSENCE.COM: Why do you think so many kids today are so out of control?
HARDIMAN: Violence is learned behavior that is passed down from generation to generation. This is happening throughout the city. From a distance these are gang members, but to us they are misguided youth who come from dysfunctional homes and got caught up in the street life. A lot of times it’s because of hopelessness and when young Black men get frustrated, they make bad decisions.
ESSENCE.COM: What do you believe is the possible solution to the rampant violence in Chicago?
HARDIMAN: Violence can hit anybody at anytime. Most of the youth in Chicago have premeditated in their minds what they are going to do if someone steps to them. They would rather get caught with a gun than without a gun because if 20 people run up on you, a gun is a great neutralizer. But these kids are not a lost cause. No one wants to deal with them but we have to realize that we created this. We have to find a way to connect with our young people and that’s what the CeaseFire officers do on a daily basis. We’ve worked with 900 high risk youth in Chicago this year alone. Last year there were 510 homicides and this year we may make it to 400. It still sounds horrible but it is a significant drop.
ESSENCE.COM: President Obama and the First Lady are both in Copenhagen vying to get the 2012 Olympics to come to Chicago. Do you think that’s such a good idea based on what’s happening with the youth?
HARDIMAN: It’s a good thing if we can put 10,000 young people to work if the Olympics come here. They need to be part of the process. Someone needs to take a chance on them and give them opportunity. If they don’t have the credentials now, prepare them for it. Get the guys off the corners and ensure them that they would never be looked over again. That’s how we all become a part of the overall change.