GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids is addressing violence through a program called Cure Violence.
The city introduced the team leading the local chapter of the national program at a virtual meet-and-greet Wednesday afternoon.
“Every week you see different clips on TV of gun violence,” said Steven Jackson, the site director for Cure Violence. “Just want to end it. I don’t want my kids to lose another friend.”
The eight member group of the Cure Violence team is made up of people who live or grew up in areas of the city — like the city’s third ward — where gun violence has been prevalent. They are tasked with putting a dent in crime by canvassing neighborhoods and interacting with community members to identify and de-escalate acts of violence before they’re committed.
“Our role is to interrupt violence when we know maybe some groups or cliques are having problems with each other,” said Sharrhae Dean, a violence interrupter for Cure Violence. “We want to get in between that and help them find different ways to resolve that.”
To have that connection, an emphasis was placed on finding people with close community ties to join the program.
“I’ve been a victim of violence and I’ve perpetrated violence on people,” said Alfred Fowler, who joined the program as a violence interrupter.
Fowler, who grew up on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, says the record-setting 38 homicides in Grand Rapids in 2020 prompted him to join Cure Violence.
“Thirty eight deaths touching home,” Fowler said. “A lot of those kids I knew when they were born and to see them in a casket at such a young age was devastating. So, I knew I had to make a change, be a part of that change.”
Joining Cure Violence holds extra significance for Dean, who received devastating news the same day she found out she had been accepted by the program.
“The day the Urban League (of West Michigan) reached out to me to offer me the position, my nephew passed away that day from gunshot wounds,” Dean said. “That really told me, Sharrae, this (role) is for you.”
Jackson says kids and young adults who fall into street life can lead better lives if given guidance, which is something he hopes the program can do.
“A lot of times kid are in frustration is because they can’t get a job, have no housing, they failed in school and want to get back and don’t know how to do it,” Jackson said. “We have all those resources.”
The Cure Violence team plans on holding in-person meet-and-greet sessions with community members in the coming months. The team is also looking at partnering with local school districts to reach out to at-risk youth.