Natalie Munoz lights a religious candle to place at the spot where of 14-year-old Michael Orozco was killed on April 8, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. ((Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images))

Chicago organizations hope to curb youth violence

As Chicago Public Schools plans to close 54 schools, the issue of safety has become a major concern throughout a city already in the national spotlight for its high rates of gun violence.

According to local crime statistics, 506 people were murdered last year, which is up from 433 in 2011. And although this month the Chicago Police Department released figures indicating a 42 percent decline in the number of murders in the city in the first four months of 2013, many still live in fear.  Organizations throughout the city are working hard to reduce violence among young people.

“I don’t know if it’s a fact that youth violence is increasing. CPS [Chicago Public Schools] has been aggregating data and violence in general has been decreasing, but Chicago is doing worse in comparison to other big cities. The rate of youth violence is still unacceptable,” says Michael D. Rodriguez, Executive Director of Enlace Chicago.

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Rodriguez says his organization’s approach to addressing youth violence is very comprehensive. Through prevention, intervention, and policy and systems change, Enlace aims to reduce crime in Little Village, a predominately Mexican neighborhood in Chicago. Rodriguez says that as a result of community work, murders in Little Village over the last few years have gone down. This year, they are on track to have fewer than 12 murders. “The numbers are looking better, but we still have a long way to go,” he says.

Enlace tries to offer positive adult engagement and activities such as sports, tutoring, and art, Rodriguez says. They also provide mentorship and mental health support. Currently, the organization works very intensely in eight Little Village Schools and to a lesser extent in four or five others.

According to Rodriguez, the organization sees many success stories. “There was a young man involved in gangs. He used to hold guns on the corner,” Rodriguez says. “He had a mentor from our program who helped him get out of the gang, get a GED, and attend community college.”

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Last month, another local organization, the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago, hosted the Youth Congress on Peace, which they describe as “an opportunity to positively engage a diverse group in dialogue around how we can employ the Shambhala principle of basic goodness to address the societal issue of violence—and youth violence in particular.”

Buddhist spiritual leader Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle participated in the conference. The program included poetry, mindfulness practices, small breakout discussion, and performances by the Goodman Theater. They also discussed the possible solutions to reducing crime. About 150 young people were in attendance.

“Last fall, the leader of our organization wanted to come to Chicago to engage in a community issue. Teen violence was a pressing issue, and not knowing anything about it, we wanted to engage with partners who were involved in that,” says Tom Adducci, Center Director of the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago.

The center reached out to a number of organizations in Chicago including Latinos Progresando, CeaseFire, Enlace Chicago, and many others. “Different organizations who are working on this had never even talked to each other, so we were able to come together and form partnerships.”

Adducci says that they received great feedback from many young people who attended the conference. “They appreciated being heard and being listened to rather than being talked at,” he says.

Because of the success of the conference, Adducci says the center intends to have ongoing relationships with the other organizations. They’re currently considering forming meditation workshops in the future.

“This is just a starting point, a way of having a conversation,” Adducci says.

Chicago organizations hope to curb youth violence  erika l sanchez education NBC Latino News

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for The Huffington Post and other publications. Her poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Witness, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and many others. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com

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