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Remarks of Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon at the Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative Grantee Conference, Chicago, IL

Thank you so much to our Acting Associate Attorney General, Ben Mizer, and to Attorney General Garland for opening our national conference on community violence intervention.

Good morning, everyone. I’m Amy Solomon, the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs. I’m so excited to be here today in the great city of Chicago, and thrilled to be joined by our distinguished speakers, local leaders and hundreds of dedicated professionals who are working across the country to reduce violence in our communities.

I want to begin with a special shout-out to my colleague and good friend, Chicago’s own Eddie Bocanegra. I know that Eddie holds a special place in his heart for the people of Chicago, and for so many in this audience who are fighting to keep this city, and cities across the country, safe.

Eddie has a tireless passion that inspires me every day. His groundbreaking work with his colleagues at READI Chicago is testament to his deep commitment. The Department of Justice is better for his service. Eddie’s a true leader, and you could not ask for a greater champion for you or America’s communities.

So here we are at our second national CVI conference. I met many of you last year in St. Louis, where we held our inaugural CVIPI convening. During the welcoming ceremony, it felt like the beginning of something big. Not the beginning of the work – many of you have been doing this work for years, for decades – but the beginning of a new chapter in our country, one where your work is front and center, getting the recognition and support it has so long deserved. A chapter written by all of you.

A year later, I think we can all agree, it's been a big year for CVI, and I’m more excited than ever to be here with you today.

This was the year that our first cohort of CVI awardees began their grants in earnest. And I had the chance to visit with so many of you and see your work in action.

I’ve visited with Brother Lyle Muhammad and his amazing team at the Circle of Brotherhood in Miami.

We’ve spent time with Connie Rice and Fernando Rejon and the Urban Peace Institute in Los Angeles.

In Baltimore, ROCA hosted a powerful peace circle where we got to hear firsthand from frontline staff and participants regarding what they experience daily and how relationships and cognitive behavioral therapy has helped.

And we've been honored to host many of you in Washington, D.C., where you've voiced your vision in the halls of Congress and the White House.

This year we also welcomed a whole new cohort of grantees, as you just heard from the Attorney General. We announced those awards on site at UTEC in Lowell, Massachusetts, where we met with streetworkers and young adults in the program. Their words during our circle have stuck with me ever since. Frontline workers described themselves as having “hearts bigger than their bodies”; they talked about how they instinctively react “like firefighters” to emergency calls, and they “plant seeds of hope” in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods.

We also heard that day from Haverhill Police Chief Bob Pistone and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, both full of praise for the work of UTEC as key partners in keeping their communities safe and acknowledging the value of this work.

Last summer, we were on Chicago’s West Side, meeting at UCAN with their CEO, Christa Hamilton, Vaughn Bryant of Metropolitan Peace Initiatives and many of their partners.

And we spent an unforgettable afternoon at New Life Centers, hearing from mothers in Little Village who had lost children to gun violence and who are fighting, every day, in the shadow of unimaginable loss, in order to prevent others from experiencing such tragedies.

It was a wrenching discussion, and a forceful reminder of why we are here. Why the Attorney General is here. Why the Acting Associate Attorney General is here, as are key leaders from the Office of Justice Programs. We’re here because we believe in you and the power of CVI programs to save lives.

So with that I want to introduce you to our key leaders from the Office of Justice Programs who are here:

  • Brent Cohen, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General;
  • Karhlton Moore, Director of our Bureau of Justice Assistance;
  • Dr. Nancy La Vigne, Director of the National Institute of Justice;
  • Liz Ryan, Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and
  • Kris Rose, Director of the Office for Victims of Crime.

You'll see them on this stage and in the audience throughout the week, and I encourage you to seek them out and get to know them. They're here in Chicago not just as senior Department of Justice officials, but as fierce champions of your work, and they are eager to learn from you.

They, and I, are supported by very talented colleagues who work hard to deliver these resources to the field. I’d like to ask the staff from BJA, OJJDP, OVC and NIJ to please stand.

I may be the one up on stage right now, but these are the people who do the heavy lifting. This group has been working together, tirelessly, across offices to bring this initiative to life over the past two years.

Simply put, the CVI initiative would not exist without them. A huge thank you to this team and our OJP leaders for their commitment and dedication to CVI.

And I’d like to give a special shout out to Kathy Browning, Tenzing Lahdon, Reeve Jacobus and of course Eddie for their leadership in putting together this incredible conference.

We are here thanks to them, but we are here because of you. Community violence intervention is now a pillar of our work at the Department of Justice, and CVI professionals – the people in this room – are the force behind it.

You are the ones bringing these strategies to life in our communities. You are the ones proving that we can disrupt cycles of trauma and violence. You are the ones out there seeding hope and showing us all that a brighter future is within our reach.

You make all of this possible, and we are so proud to join you – here at this conference and throughout the year – as your partners and supporters.

Just two years ago, we launched the CVI Initiative as a community-driven, community-centered and equity-focused endeavor. In addition to the 76 site-based grants that the Attorney General mentioned, we are funding intermediaries to help us reach community-rooted organizations that have the closest ties to key people and services.

These organizations are often smaller, neighborhood groups that may not have the resources to compete for large federal grants but are best positioned to deliver high-impact interventions. They’ve long been under-resourced and underinvested in. But we’re trying to change that and tap strategies to make them stronger pillars of the public safety networks in their neighborhoods and cities.

We’ve made seven of these intermediary awards to date, and we are awed by their efforts to provide microgrant funding and technical assistance to smaller CBOs, to help them build their capacity to grow and sustain this lifesaving work over the long term.

We’ve got Metropolitan Family Services right here in Chicago, delivering federal resources to hyper-local CBOs with deep roots in the city’s South Side. I had an opportunity to meet with one these groups, Project H.O.O.D., and to hear firsthand how MFS is making a difference, setting them up to better serve their community for the long haul.

In Colorado, the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership is reaching three Black- and Latino-led grassroots groups that serve communities hardest hit by violence. They’re building organizational capacity to collect and deploy data, an invaluable tool for guiding service delivery and telling the story of the work.

LISC is working with organizations across five cities – Memphis, Cincinnati, Richmond, Selma and Washington, D.C.

And new intermediaries like Equal Justice USA will be supporting organizations in Louisiana, helping to bolster services that prevent violence and promote healing.

Our goal here is make sure that federal support is reaching the communities that are too often overlooked and under-funded – the same communities where violence takes the heaviest toll.

It’s about reaching the organizations that reflect these communities, are designed to serve them, are located within them and are closest to the problems we seek to solve.

With the help of our intermediary partners, we’re bridging the gap to federal funding for grassroots groups, promoting more equitable access to our resources and tapping into the enormous wealth of expertise these leaders bring to the table. We look forward to making more of these intermediary grants in the new funding cycle that opened today.

We’re also providing technical assistance through our amazing partners at the Community Based Public Safety Collective and LISC, who are working hand in hand with other providers.

And through LISC, we’ve recently launched a resource center that offers free training and technical assistance to any organization interested in exploring CVI, whether they’re a grantee or not.

In addition, the National Institute of Justice is supporting research and evaluation so that we can continue to build the evidence base, tell the story and learn what works best to reduce violence and save lives.

By providing direct funding, by empowering local organizations and by growing our knowledge base, our goal is to help you bring CVI to full scale. The end game is to leverage the incredible talent and commitment embodied in this field for safer communities across America.

As I’ve traveled the country with Eddie and my colleagues, I’ve been moved by the stories you tell, and by the commitment, the resolve and the hope that CVI leaders bring to their work.

We know that you live these stories, every day – stories about exposure to violence, about pain and struggle and burnout, but also about the optimism you feel and the faith you hold for an end to the trauma of gun violence.

We see you. We know the work you’re doing is difficult, often dangerous, never without its challenges and frustrations. It’s wrenching, it’s personal and it takes a toll. It’s also work that can be done by no one else.

That’s because CVI relies on professionals with deep ties to your neighborhoods and deep credibility in your communities – on professionals who are trained to deescalate conflicts and connect people to services, professionals who are uniquely qualified to reach and persuade high-risk youth that there is a better future for them – to help them visualize and believe in that brighter future for themselves and their families.

No pressure here, but your communities, and our nation, are depending on you. But no one is better positioned than you to answer the call. We are looking to you to be the difference that our communities need.

We also know we must do our part to create an environment where CVI professionals are set up to succeed. CVI workers must be well-paid and well-supported, with opportunities for professional development and career advancement.

I think there are important lessons here from the law enforcement field, which is embracing efforts to support officers’ health and well-being, and help officers build resiliency and navigate the stress of the job. Those same types of resources are essential for CVI professionals, who are also on the front lines.

You heard the Attorney General announce new grant opportunities. Two were released today and there’s one more to come in a few weeks. That last one will include a focus on the health and wellness of CVI outreach workers. It’s time, right?

No pressure here, but your communities, and our nation, are depending on you. But no one is better positioned than you to answer the call. We are looking to you to be the difference that our communities need.

The new project will just be a start, but we’re proud to launch this new line of work as a key part of our CVI investments.

We are planting a seed here, but we know how quickly these seeds can grow. Ultimately, our hope is to create a public safety landscape that allows the community to take its place at the center.

At the Office of Justice Programs, our mission – our responsibility – is to work with leaders like all of you to advance community safety, to build bridges of trust and – critically – to strengthen the community’s role as co-producer of safety and justice. That is our mission at OJP. In the words of the Alliance for Safety and Justice and CVI leaders around the country, we see safety as a “shared strategy,” a community-wide enterprise.

We hear this from city and CVI leaders, hospital and behavioral health workers. We also hear it from our law enforcement partners.

Just last week, I was on a call with Chief Ernest Cato, a Chicago police force veteran who is now with the Illinois Department of Corrections. He said, more eloquently than I will, “Police can’t solve the problem of violence alone – the community is the solution.”

So, through the CVI initiative, and our broader mission at OJP, we are working to grow the CVI ecosystem as an essential complement to law enforcement in our collective efforts to prevent and reduce violent crime.

The greater vision here is a future where CVI programs and strategies are an essential and connected part of the larger public safety infrastructure in each of your cities. That’s where we’re headed.

In closing, we are grateful for the vitally important work you do, we are proud to be your partners and supporters, and we look forward to continuing our work together on behalf of all our communities.

It’s now my great pleasure to welcome back to the stage my colleague, my good friend and our emcee for the conference, Eddie Bocanegra.


Date Published: April 3, 2024