For the last seven years, a Chicago organization has been working to reduce gun violence one week at a time.
Chicago CRED aims to approach violence reduction by engaging with those most at risk of being shot. The nonprofit organization, which has nine locations, provides young men in the city with opportunities to change their lives through services like life coaching and education.
Over several months, participants like Darvil Barnes engage in a program to change their lives.
“A lot of the violence in the city caused me to feel like I need to make a change for myself in order to make a change within my community,” Barnes said. “I can’t help change the community if I was still living the same way I was a few years back.”
Barnes grew up on the Southwest Side and over the years he’s lost at least seven friends to gun violence, he said.
“I was shot when I was 15. Terrifying situation,” Barnes said. “I got chased quite a few times in my teenage years being shot at.”
Billy Moore, the alumni manager at CRED, knows the difficult journey these young men face. After serving nearly 20 years in prison, he now helps others transform their lives.
“People come from a set of circumstances that may reduce opportunities or not give you so much access to what other people may have access to make better decisions,” Moore said.
According to CRED, Nearly 75% of gun violence takes place in 20 of the 77 Chicago community areas — most of those areas being on the South and West sides.
“You are never going to eliminate people from using guns or shooting people but we do want to get to a point where people feel safer,” said Moore. “It’s not a situation where you feel you are walking out your door and you may be a victim of gun violence because you have other things to look forward to.”
The program takes recruits through a variety of stages, from therapy to life coaching. Services that many in the program say they’ve never had easy access to.
Steven Thompson, 25, uses a wheelchair after he was shot three times.
“I used to hold so much s--- in,” Thompson said. “I would lash it at the wrong person but now that I’m able to really communicate and express my feelings and thoughts the right way... So I have just been cool, really.”
He says growing up in tough circumstances led him down the wrong path — a version of himself he wants to leave behind.
“Chicago CRED helped shift my focus back into reality. I’m more positive,” Thompson said. “I know how to self-regulate. I’m doing the healing.”
One of the organization’s focuses is to provide people with mental health services and one-on-one counseling, among other workshops.
“They haven’t faced the mental health issues they’re dealing with,” Moore said. “The trauma that’s packed into their life as children all the way up to young adulthood.”
Only six months into the program, Darvil Barnes says he’s changing the course of his life.
“It was hard. Just trying to keep myself safe and out of trouble,” Barnes said. “It seemed it was getting harder and harder on a daily basis. Now it’s much easier.”
Breaking generational cycles is what Barnes says he is driven to do with his children.
“Growing up, it wasn’t extremely encouraged in our communities that fathers make the necessary changes in their lives to ensure they will be there for their kids,” Barnes said. “All of the time and attention I wanted as a kid I can now give my kids.”