Chico Tillmon, a community violence intervention expert, speaks after 30 community leaders hashed out how to work together to reduce gun violence. Credit: Chris Libonati

In a first-of-its-kind meeting, Syracuse’s most influential community advocates convened Wednesday to hash out how they can better work together to prevent gun violence in the city.

About 30 leaders attended the summit at Christ the King Retreat in Syracuse’s Meadowbrook neighborhood.

Lateef Johnson-Kinsey, head of the Mayor’s Office to Reduce Gun Violence, planned Wednesday’s meeting to get people and the nonprofits they represent on the same page.

Chico Tillmon, a community violence intervention expert hired by the city to assess Syracuse’s network of programs, also participated.

“The only way to solve violence is doing it together,” said Tillmon. “It’s everybody’s responsibility. They’re in a good space working with the city because they’re connected to a larger network of services.”

The stakes of reducing gun violence have increased over the last two years. Twenty-five people have been shot to death in each of those years, making them the worst in Syracuse’s history.

Representatives for the groups said they haven’t worked as closely because their nonprofits had to compete for funding.

The city has made funds more widely available for nonprofits who address the problem, easing the competition. Earlier this year, the city also set aside money to contract with Tillmon, who attended the meeting.

“Everybody has a part to play,” said the Good Life Foundation’s Azariah Yemma. “Sometimes we’re being pitted against each other. They’ll put a pot of money out and then they’ll say, ‘OK, everyone take a little piece of it,’ so you might become competitive in a way, but not understanding that everybody has to be a part of this.”

Attendees included:

  • Street Addiction Institute
  • The Good Life Foundation
  • OG’s Against Violence
  • SNUG
  • Rebirth
  • Building Men
  • Team A.N.G.E.L.
  • The National Action Network

3 questions with Chico Tillmon

Interview is edited for length and clarity.

Central Current: There is a long-standing competition for dollars for nonprofits. What is it like being part of something that can help end that?

Chico Tillmon: I think you said something really important. Historically, grants have been presented where there’s only gonna be a certain amount of allotments and it may be a plethora of people vying for that small pot of money. But what we’ve seen in those situations, the individuals who are fortunate enough to receive the funding, they may flourish. The ones that don’t, they still have challenges in those communities. One of the things that I was talking about was the fluidity of community, how individuals who live near the Bricks might still go into 110, and the only way we can really see impact is to service them both.

We can’t continue to service one community or pilot one community without piloting a community that might be adversarial toward them. Because what happens is by introducing them to this new way of thinking, you can make them vulnerable to violence if you don’t address the same conditions of the community that they may have challenges with. So I was talking about taking a more ecological systems approach and trying to address the whole and build that way.

CC: Have you been able to identify the gaps yet? Are people telling you those things? How do you plan to figure those things out?

Tillmon: Well, first, doing the assessment, all the challenges are gonna emerge to the top. The first thing I’ve gotta do is the quantitative part because what I’m hearing now is … what appears to be violent, what appears to be the most troubled communities, whereas the data is going to simply state that.

Then we want to look at trends … so we could say over five or six years, these are the target areas. As you spoke about the West Side, that’s the Latinx community, right? So even when we’re thinking about mitigating challenges over there, we want to think about cultural competency and what type of programs or services that the community wants over there. It might not look the same as the program in 110 or the Bricks or the North Side, but it could be as effective.

CC: What role do you think the average person can play in stopping gun violence?

Tillmon: One of them is through advocacy and policy, talking to people about ways to create structures to provide healthy communities, even around resources.

The thing I impress upon people is that people are fluid. What that means is people that live in 110 or the Bricks come downtown. They come into your community, too. If we don’t mitigate that problem, the next victim could be you. So, it’s a shared problem. We don’t want the water to spill in our front yard for us to realize it’s a problem because we’ve seen the impact around the world how violence can strike anyone at any given time. It’s time for us as Americans, or the people of Syracuse, to step up and meet the challenge.

Chris Libonati

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.