Remarks of Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon at the
Community Violence Intervention Leadership Academy Graduation Ceremony, Washington, DC
Good afternoon! I’m thrilled to be here and honored to join all of you as we commend and congratulate the graduates.
I want to thank the Vice President and our friends at the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention – Stef Feldman, Greg Jackson and Rob Wilcox – for their tremendous leadership in our nation’s efforts to reduce gun violence, and for their strong support of community violence intervention programs.
Let me also commend the amazing University of Chicago Crime Lab team – Roseanna Ander, Jens Ludwig and Chico Tillmon – for launching the CVI Leadership Academy and for having the foresight to train up CVI leaders at such a critical time. And I want to recognize two very inspiring “Moore’s” in the room – my colleague Karhlton Moore, who is the Director of our Bureau of Justice Assistance, and Governor Wes Moore, who we will hear from shortly.
Most importantly, I want to recognize and congratulate the CVI Leadership Academy graduates! I had the privilege of hosting a roundtable with them yesterday at the Department of Justice. It was an amazing meeting – a true highlight for those of us at the Department.
To the graduates, my colleagues and I loved hearing about your capstone projects and reflections from your experience, and we are awed by the life-saving, life-changing work you are doing in your home communities. You are pioneers in your field, and we are thrilled that you’ve committed your time and talent to this training, to fortifying your skills as CVI leaders. Make no mistake: We are committed to forging this path with you, so that, collectively, we can bring this work to scale across the nation.
Our mission at the Office of Justice Programs is tightly aligned with the mission of CVI. At the Office of Justice Programs, we are focused on using our federal resources to advance community safety, build community trust and strengthen the community’s role as co-producer of safety and justice.
And so it is truly an honor to be able to support the Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative, the first federal grant program dedicated specifically to CVI.
I know many people in this room – from both outside and inside government – played key roles in making the initiative a reality. And over the last two and a half years, CVI has become a centerpiece of our work at OJP. Here I need to give a big shout out to my esteemed colleague and friend, Eddie Bocanegra.
For the last two years, Eddie has served as our Senior Advisor for Community Violence Intervention. His leadership in shaping this effort, working with staff across the Department, and with all of you, has been invaluable.
I’m sure many of you have known Eddie for years, from the extraordinary work he did with READI Chicago. Rigorous research from none other than the University of Chicago Crime Lab showed that READI participants saw large reductions in arrests and victimizations, and every dollar invested in the program returned roughly four dollars in societal benefits.
I can assure you that the federal team here benefits – every single day – from Eddie’s experience and expertise, and his deep commitment to this work. And he is always bringing your voice to the table.
He’s also on the road constantly, and together we have seen many of you in action. We visited with Brother Lyle in Miami, we’ve been to Baltimore, Chicago, Lowell and L.A. – and we are always inspired by the difference this work is making.
What we hear in each of the cities we visit are stories about exposure to violence and its deep impact, about pain, struggle, burnout and trauma. But we always also hear about hope, optimism and the integrity with which violence interrupters approach this tough work. During our visit to UTEC in Lowell, we heard about street intervention workers with “hearts bigger than their bodies,” who react “like firefighters” to emergency calls and who “plant seeds of hope” in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods.
And for so many of our young people, CVI organizations become their safe space, their family, their community. And that gives them the strength and the resolve to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
This is what motivates us in Washington to do what we do.
And so, over the past two years the Department has made unprecedented investments in CVI. With resources from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and appropriations, we’ve invested nearly $200 million in CVI programs. We are taking an approach – taking our cues from many of you – that is community-driven, community-centered and equity-focused. The larger vision here is to grow and strengthen the CVI ecosystem so that it is a robust part of the public safety infrastructure in jurisdictions around the country.
Now specifically, grants to date have gone to 76 sites in 29 states, including a number of organizations represented here today. Grantees are employing credible messengers to mediate conflicts, they’re interrupting cycles of violence and they’re building bridges to opportunity for those who are most at risk of violence.
Many of these grants are going to CBOs, others to city-led collaboratives and four to states with multiple CVI locations. It’s exciting to see sites drawing on cross-sector partnerships, working with hospitals and public health departments, housing agencies, educational institutions, workforce development providers, survivors of gun violence and officials at all levels of government. In fact, roughly two-thirds of the new grantees came in with established partnerships with law enforcement.
We’re also supporting seven organizations with deep expertise and credibility in the CVI space to serve as intermediaries to smaller CBOs. These larger organizations provide both funding and hands-on technical assistance to help smaller, community rooted agencies access resources and build their capacity to grow and sustain their work in the long term.
We know that these CBOs, like many of yours, have deep ties to the community and are often in the best position to deliver high-impact interventions. We hope that this new intermediary, or micro-grant, approach will help grow the bench and strengthen the CVI ecosystem.
We’re also providing tailored technical assistance to the field via the amazing Community Based Public Safety Collective, LISC, and Heartland Alliance – and several other partners. And we’re standing up a resource center that offers free training and technical assistance to any organization interested in exploring CVI interventions, whether they’re a grantee or not.
And finally, we’re supporting research and evaluation so that we can build the evidence base, tell the story and continue to learn what works best to reduce violence and save lives.
I’m proud of this progress but know there is much more to do to meet the moment. And we stand ready to do so.
In the coming weeks, we anticipate posting more funding opportunities to grow the CVI field, and to support many other public safety efforts, too. In fact, just yesterday the Justice Department announced what we call our “program plan” for fiscal year 2024, forecasting more than 200 anticipated funding opportunities designed to support state and local public safety and community justice efforts, as well as critical research. The program plan is a searchable database of solicitations we expect to release this spring, pending Congressional funding. We hope this is a great resource for you and your home communities.
In closing, let me acknowledge that we understand just how personal this work is for many of you. In many cases, your commitment grew out of your own experience with violence, and it became a pledge to spare others the same pain and grief that you suffered.
That’s why I’m urging you, as leaders who have walked this road and who have lived this work, to carry what you’ve gained from your experience with the Academy, and to bring it back to your communities. Each of you is in a position to make your organizations even stronger, to use what you’ve learned, to inspire your peers and to deliver the extra dose of hope in ways no one else can. You see the potential and the humanity of those you work with in ways that many don’t.
Do not underestimate your power as force multipliers. Your compassion, skills, commitment and integrity will help create a pathway for many more leaders in the field. With respect, you carry a great burden of responsibility, and we are looking to you to be the difference that our communities need.
We look forward to supporting you and working with you, and we are proud to call ourselves your partner. Thank you, and again, congratulations.