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Top takeaways from Louisville’s Gun Violence Reduction Summit

Citywide Violence Reduction Summit idea board with attendees seated in the background.
Roberto Roldan
The Citywide Violence Reduction Summit took place over two days at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.

Community groups working to reduce gun violence in Louisville came together with city officials this week for an anti-violence summit amid a spike in homicides and shootings that started in 2020.

Organizers say the two-day Citywide Violence Reduction Summit was the first time so many local grassroots groups focused on advocacy, intervention and support services for victims all gathered in one place. More than 300 people attended the event at the Muhammad Ali Center. They discussed potential partnerships, and the organizations provided feedback on ways Louisville Metro Government could better support anti-violence initiatives.

Paul Callanan, head of the city’s Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, said the feedback will form the basis for a report that will include a set of recommendations for elected officials and organizations that fund gun violence reduction efforts.

“You’re probably going to see the convergence of a community-led plan and a city-led plan,” Callanan said. “It’s not just the government’s responsibility to do violence prevention. There’s a lot of folks in this room that can do that, too.”

Groups that participated in the summit included No More Red Dots, Men Against Gun Violence and Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters Kentucky. Representatives from city departments, such as Parks and Recreation and the Louisville Metro Police Department, also took part.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from attendees who spoke to LPM News on Wednesday, the final day of the summit.

More collaboration

Callanan said the most common recommendation he heard was that organizations need more opportunities to collaborate. He said anti-gun violence groups too often work in silos, unaware of potential partners.

“It’s not going to be a fix overnight,” Callanan said, referring to Louisville’s gun violence crisis. “I know people want solutions … The reality is there’s hundreds of people everyday doing work to reduce violence. The idea is how do we strengthen that.”

The summit was the first step in building partnerships, he said.

It brought together groups focused on the early stages of intervention, like the YMCA and city offices providing programming for at-risk youth. Groups working with young people already involved in gangs or violent crime were able to network with organizations providing job training, housing services and adult education opportunities.

Cathy Burkey helped organize the summit through her work with the Louisville Alliance for Sustainable Gun Violence Reduction. She’s also the director of ecosystem development for Interfaith Paths to Peace.

She said the hope is that residents, not just organizations, can be involved in future meetings.

“We’d like to organize at a neighborhood level, where neighborhoods are deciding what they want in their community and everyone comes to assist at the pace and the place that they choose,” she said.

Filling gaps in services

Participants mapped out the “gun violence reduction ecosystem” from advocacy and intervention to prison reentry programs on the first day of the summit. They listed out all of the nonprofits, grassroots groups and government agencies involved in anti-violence efforts locally.

The exercise showed where there may be gaps in services, Callanan said.

“There are very few organizations working with girls involved in violence,” he said. “How you approach a girl involved in gangs or gun violence is very different than how you approach a boy or a young man.”

There’s also a shortage of groups focused on the needs of people who experience secondary exposure to gun violence, Callanan said.

“We’ve had multiple shootings on certain blocks in our community,” he said. “How are we getting out to not the direct victims of that, but the people who live on that block who are subjected to that trauma all the time?”

Rose Smith runs the ACE Project, which offers grief counseling and support groups for family members who have lost a loved one to gun violence. Smith created the ACE Project based on her own experiences. Her son, Cory Crowe Sr., was murdered in west Louisville in 2014.

Smith said when that tragedy struck her family, there weren’t many resources similar to what her organization now provides.

“I wanted to be able to offer those services that I didn’t have but I believe I needed,” she said. “I often say my son was fatally injured, I was critically wounded.”

Since 2014, Smith said she’s seen more groups providing mental health services to families impacted by gun violence. But she said there are still other unmet needs.

“I’ve seen different family members who cannot go to work,” she said. “The trauma that comes behind these incidents is unspeakable. We need other resources where, if they’re not able to go to work, they can get their LG&E [bill] paid, their rent paid.”

Spreading resources across the community

A recurring theme was the need to direct more funding toward Black-led organizations and grassroots groups working in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence.

Tarsha Semakula, owner of Buttafly Communications, said she had helped many of the groups in the room with program development and fundraising. She told attendees there should be more Louisville nonprofit agencies that are “Black-led and Black-run.”

“The focus should be to put as many Black-led agencies into this community to act as a tool for change,” she said.

Some attendees praised the summit organizers for highlighting smaller organizations that don’t always get recognition, like Bosses Not Bangers, a nonprofit that promotes youth entrepreneurship, and Life Coach Each One Teach One, which provides reentry services and support for people who have been incarcerated.

Shameka Parrish-Wright, a long-time community organizer and head of the group VOCAL-KY, said she hopes city officials and funders left the summit with a better understanding of all the local groups working to reduce violence.

“Some of these groups who have been doing meaningful work for a really long time need the possibility of getting some funding,” she said.

Parrish-Wright said she thinks residents in impacted communities would benefit from better-funded direct services providers who look like them.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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