Paul Lopez, The Denver Post
Read the original article.
On the streets of District 3 in Denver, we've been turning graffiti into corn.
Instead of sending young people to the sheriff when they break the law, they're getting involved in programs like Semillas de Esperanza, a group of non-profits that target their effort to reduce violence in innovative ways. Youth are picking up shovels instead of guns, making art instead of trouble. Opportunities, not arrests: that's part of the public health approach to preventing violence that the city of Denver is working on. But this whole approach is in jeopardy.
Last month, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee green-lighted the 2012 budget bill and simultaneously zeroed out funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Violence Prevention activities. Though the House draft version of the budget bill currently protects the funding, the future of these resources is highly uncertain.
Elimination of this $19.7 million in funding will have a devastating impact on efforts to prevent violence across the country and compromise decades of work - including right here in Denver - that is showing real results. The Denver Academic Center for Excellence just began a five-year, $6.5 million project using these federal funds, focusing on bringing a public health approach to Montbello. These critical funds must be reinstated.
Instead of simply "treating" violence after the fact, one arrest at a time, the CDC-supported public health approach homes in on what causes violence: It engages youth to create new opportunities for participation, leadership and economic opportunity, dismantling the barriers to peaceful streets and connected neighbors.
A program within the Semillas group comes from the Gang Reduction and Support Program, with their Barrio Unity Mural Project. We take over walls that have a lot of graffiti and tagging, and pay the young people with the talent to create a message that supports unity.
Now you can see these murals popping up all over, saying "Unity in Our Community," "Stop the Violence for the Sake of Our Children," "Cultura Cura" (culture cures) and an image of César Chavez with the words "Remember Si Se Puede" on the side of a building that used to be tagged. Since these murals are created by the same artists who live in the neighborhood, they become a part of the neighborhood's pride. On the rare occasion that a mural gets tagged, it is the community members who paint over the tagging.
Revisions International encourages people to plant gardens in their backyards, front yards, in the neighborhood. You can roll around West Denver now and see corn stalks everywhere. We were able to work with Denver Public Schools in fields near the schools that weren't being used. Students planted a garden in this field for fruit trees.
This is what a public health approach to preventing violence looks like: kids making art, working in gardens, building community, improving their neighborhoods. It's hard to see the violence that doesn't happen - the kids not getting arrested, the wall that never got tagged. But it surrounds all of us every day, and it takes resources to make it happen.
And it works. Minneapolis, a city in Prevention Institute's CDC-funded UNITY City Network, documented a 40 percent drop in juvenile crime in two years, while arrest rates went down. A CDC-funded study of the effects of Baltimore's Safe Streets program has found reductions in overall gun violence, reductions of non-fatal shootings by up to 34 percent, and reductions of homicides by up to 50 percent.
As our legislators negotiate a budget, they will be faced with many competing priorities. None of our visions for a revitalized country - from workforce investment to economic development to education - can be actualized if our young people are not safe. At $19.7 million, this federal funding is a small but vital investment in the health and future of our young people, and our communities.
How do you turn graffiti into corn? It's not magic, but it does take political will - and courage. And that's exactly what our young people deserve.