By SAM RAPPAPORT
The most likely cause of death for Black men in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 34 is murder, according to the Center for Disease Control.
A group of anti-violence activists asked Hyde Park residents to think long and hard about this reality, at a presentation in Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave., on Thursday, May 19.
Evanston Attorney Vanessa Tanaka partnered with Harper Theater owners Wendy and Tony Fox to host the event, a panel discussion titled “Catalyst for Change: Reducing Gun Violence in Chicago.”
The panel featured Marshaun Bacon, a guidance counselor with Becoming A Man; LeVon Stone Sr., the program director for Ceasefire Illinois; and Norman Kerr, the vice president for violence prevention at UCAN. All of these organizations work directly with at-risk youth to provide counseling and mental health services.
The panelists urged audience members, many of whom were white, to move beyond a surface level discourse of Chicago’s violence.
Kerr asked attendees to inhabit the mind of a high school student who witnesses a shooting on Sunday and is made to take a test in school on Monday.
“I see death around the corner,” said Kerr, speaking from the student’s perspective. “I got killers after me and you’re talking to me about some school paperwork?”
Kerr’s anecdote aimed to underscore a truth that few critics of the city’s violence woes seem to be talking about: entire Chicago neighborhoods are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“This is where violence and mental health intersect,” Kerr said. “[UCAN’s] focus is to go deeper, most of our young people are dealing with issues of trauma.”
Bacon followed up with Kerr’s thoughts.
“It’s not surprising that we see violence rise when social services get taken away,” Bacon said. “Instead of demonizing these young men, it’s about looking at the environment.”
Each of the panelists, however, painted a dismal picture of the available funding for urban-focused mental health services.
Stone explained that, until recently, Ceasefire Illinois relied on the state for most of its funding.
“We went from $6 million to $4 million, now we’re totally out of a budget,” Stone said. “This governor cut the lights out.”
Kerr also added that the short-term grants that many anti-violence nonprofits rely on are ineffective in spurring lasting results.
“The problems we’re talking about are generational and you’re going to give us a grant for one year?” Kerr said. “This has to be long-term funding, 10 years, 15 years. There are programs that work, but where does the money go? We know what it takes to fix this, and we’re acting like we don’t.”