USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Opening the Gates

The IVP Program

Early in the Institute for Violence Prevention, Rev. Jeff Carr spoke to the assembled IVP cohort and appealed to them to provide volunteers and food for one of the city’s premier anti-violence initiatives. Summer Night Lights (SNL) takes the simple notion of keeping local park gyms open after dark, and adds free food and youth programs. According to the program website, SNL served 710,000 participants at 24 parks in 2010. Moreover, SNL served 30,000 meals and created 1,000 new jobs in 2010. As they listened to Carr, many IVP fellows decided to become involved in a program that was in need of volunteers, funding, and resources. Later, on a site visit at a local SNL program, IVP fellows saw firsthand how community assets, like a local gym, can have a dramatic impact on youth.

IVP trainers sought to create similar breakthrough moments in the classroom, on site visits, and in practicum sessions. Rather than dry lectures or abstract concepts, the sessions encouraged fellows to ask questions, engage the presenters, and debrief the presentations in post-lecture small groups. The sessions brought public officials, scholars, gang interventionists, civic engagement specialists, community practitioners, and law enforcement agencies to spark new ideas. Equally important, the fellows were exposed to civic leaders and experts and were given the opportunity to enter into new partnerships and coalitions. IVP was further supported by a partnership with CLUE, which harnessed their expertise in mentoring pastors and linking them with ongoing work bridging the divides between Latino and African American faith leaders.

The community profiles developed in partnership with Health City were distributed to IVP fellows and were also made available on the Center for Religion and Civic Culture’s website. CRCC also arranged for Healthy City to provide hands on training for IVP participants. This training gave participants an opportunity to work directly with the Healthy City datasets and mapping capabilities and to develop skills to enhance their own community work. The community profiles included population characteristics (age, ethnicity, school population characteristics, median income, employment status, health conditions), public safety information, and community assets, such as congregations, parks, nonprofit organizations, and city resources. These profiles were then used in the classroom training of IVP participants as they developed gang-related programs and ministries, created public policies in various practicum exercises, and learned how to use data to develop strategic plans for their organizations.

For many leaders engaged in community violence interventions, the struggle of program implementation and responding to daily emergencies limits their ability to incorporate new models into their programs. Thus, the Institute for Violence Prevention developed classroom sessions to expose fellows to new modes of thought as well as to help them think about ways to create space to adopt new practices into their daily activities. In addition to the classroom sessions, IVP fellows also participated in site visits to area programs with effective service delivery models, such as SNL, Watts-Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club, and the Los Angeles Dream Center.

In order to create a positive learning environment, the training sessions began with a shared meal and an icebreaker activity. Formal and informal opportunities for peer bonding were a necessity in a setting with geographic, denominational, gender, and ethnic diversity. Small group activities also created opportunities to identify fellows with similar goals and values and expand opportunities for collaboration.

The Institute for Violence Prevention included presentations from national and local experts on topics such as:

  • Violence Prevention through Civic Engagement (Alexia Salvatierra, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice)
  • National Models of Gang Intervention and Prevention (Ray Hammond, Boston Ten Point Coalition)
  • Successful Models of Police Partnerships (LAPD Deputy Chief Craig Hunter, Lt. Ben Hittlesdorf)
  • Best Practice Sessions (Including Jeff Carr, City of Los Angeles, Gang Reduction and Youth Development; James Harris, Community Coalition of South Los Angeles; Bill Martinez, Violence Prevention Coalition; Brian Centers, Better LA; Alex Sanchez, Homies Unidos, et al.)
  • Mental Health and Violence Prevention (Sharon Rabb, Center for the Empowerment of Families)
  • Communications and Media Relations (Edina Lekovic, Muslim Public Affairs Council; Kerman Maddox, Dakota Communications)
  • Policy Analysis (Mary Lee, PolicyLink; Rick Jacobs, the Courage Campaign)

From March to June 2010, the fellows in the advanced session participated in a public policy practicum that included placements with three organizations with expertise in civic engagement, community organizing, and public policy work: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations, and Faith Communities for Families and Children.

The practicum included classroom training on the steps to civic engagement, fundraising, and community organizing, and each fellow chose one of the three organizations to work alongside during the phase. Fellows attended public actions on violence, a Black/Brown unity service, and participated in training sessions. Many who participated in the IVP program were profoundly affected by the new relationships they formed and the networks they were connected to, especially those that emphasized multicultural alliance building.

The practicum module also exposed IVP fellows to the issue of incarcerated youth. Fellows were deeply moved by their experience visiting a youth detention facility with Javier Stauring, a lay chaplain for the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese and policy director of Faith Communities for Families and Children (FCFC), which works to address the issue of juvenile incarceration and improving outcomes for those who enter the juvenile justice system. Working with FCFC exposed fellows to interfaith and multicultural coalition building, systemic reform through legislation, restorative justice as a better alternative to a punitive model of justice, direct ministry to incarcerated youth, and development of a faith based educational campaign on juvenile justice. In addition, fellows participated in the Juvenile Justice Week of Faith, an interfaith effort to raise awareness to the needs of children and families impacted by violent crime and society’s systemic response to crime.

The other two practicum settings were equally instructive. Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) is a faith-rooted organization that links clergy with low-income wage earners in order to seek economic justice. CLUE worked with fellows on an effort to create partnerships between black and Latino faith leaders around issues of violence and economic issues that affect both communities. Fellows participated in meetings with Los Angeles City Council members and participated in a Black/Brown Summit in South Los Angeles.

Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations (RCNO) seeks to establish opportunities for communities to address statewide issues related to high levels of incarceration and recidivism rates that impact many GRYD zone communities in Los Angeles. RCNO provided training on community organizing, including how to build alliances and relationships to impact policy and attended a Select Committee on Prisoner Reentry meeting to discuss how reentry issues adversely affect low-income and minority communities.

Later, when research team interviewers asked participants what they benefitted most from in the program, more often than not it was the expansion of their networks and the exposure to program models they gained through their participation in the program. In response to a question about how one would apply lessons from IVP, Bryan Jones of the HOOP Foundation said: “Well, definitely the networks of the other programs. I’ll be able to collaborate with other agencies in making a bigger network of violence prevention as opposed to one agency just trying to do it in my area, as well as the fundamental techniques that are working. For instance, the last program we had with the Boston 10 [Point Coalition] principles, that was very helpful in understanding pilot programs that have worked or could be used to build upon.”

Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Donald E. Miller is the co-founder of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Brie Loskota is the former executive director (2016-2021) of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture.