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date: 02 March 2021

Community Healing and Reconciliationfree

  • Joshua KirvenJoshua KirvenNorth Carolina A&T State University
  •  and George JacintoGeorge JacintoUniversity of Central Florida


Community healing and reconciliation have been a focus of many nations in response to civil war, genocide, and other conflicts. There have been increasing numbers of high-profile murders of African-American youths in the United States over the past 10 years. This article provides an overview of gun violence and its effects on African-American youths. Sanford, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio, experienced the murders of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and the responses of the cities will be highlighted. The two cities provide potential models by communities to address historical injustices in the aftermath of high-profile fatal black male tragedies.


There has been a growing global focus on community healing and reconciliation over the past few decades (Harris & Lappin, 2010; King, 2011; Kosic & Tauber, 2010; Wielenga & Harris, 2011). Prior to the recent series of high-profile crises in a number of cities in the United States addressing violence and an underlying history of injustice, global efforts have resulted from apartheid, civil wars, genocide, and torture (Leonard, Damjanovic, Simic, & Marshall, 2016; Quintiliani, Needham, Lemkin, & Sambath, 2011; White, 2004). Each community and geographic location has unique antecedents that lead up to the violence, whether it is national, regional, or local institutional structures and policies that precipitate the emergence of conflict. Often, recurring violence results from long-term injustice and finally becomes activated by an event that exposes the discrimination in palpable terms. Each example of community healing and reconciliation provides ideas for application of methods and techniques in other settings. Each situation is unique and requires a specific response to the crisis. While global responses offer ideas for structures and interventions, national crises also require attending to the details of the local environment. Unfortunately, there is not one successful approach to community healing and reconciliation, but rather carefully crafted approaches to each local, regional, or national crisis.

The focus of this article will be to explore the recent series of high-profile violent incidents regarding African-American youths. First, a discussion of violence against African-American males during the past few years is presented. Second, a literature review will explore a range of issues associated with youths living in areas where pervasive violence is an everyday experience with potential for long-term symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Third, an overview of the successful approaches of two cities in response to high-profile community crises is presented. Finally, we offer a discussion of the implications of the lessons learned from Cleveland, Ohio, and Sanford, Florida.

After high-profile murders of black males, the response of many city, county, and state agencies has resulted in violent responses further extending the crisis. The mishandling of investigations, cover-ups, and unjustified use of force, whether perceived or actual, has resulted in further harm to citizens and the destruction of property. Thoughtful responses to the initial violence have been absent in most cases. For this article, Sanford and Cleveland’s responses to the deaths of young black males (Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice) will be discussed beginning from the aftermaths of the tragedies to the communities’ response toward healing and social change. The impact of these two incidents will be reviewed as just two examples of well-planned and thoughtful community engagement and intervention.

The magnitude of violence against African-American males that has become a national public health problem is a major issue facing the United States today. Gun violence in America is a public health epidemic, and while this epidemic affects everyone, it has a disproportionate impact on black Americans. Gun violence destroys lives, tears families apart, and traumatizes entire communities. To address this epidemic, prevention policies, programs, and practices must be adopted, with the entire community taking interest in and ownership of the problem.

According to Fox and Swatt (2008), from 2002 to 2007 homicides involving African-American male juveniles as victims increased by 31%, and black male juvenile perpetrators of homicides also increased by 43%. Statistics also show that those individuals killed by firearms increased by an even higher rate. Fox and Swatt (2008) declared that gun killings increased by 54% for young black male victims and by 47% for young black male perpetrators. The decreasing trend for African-American male youths homicides that was witnessed between 1993 and 2002 was reversed according to Bryant (2011).

After high-profile murders of black males, the responses of many city, county, and state agencies have resulted in violence further extending the crisis. The mishandling of investigations, cover-ups, and unjustified use of force, whether perceived or actual, has resulted in further harm to citizens and the destruction of property. Thoughtful responses to the initial violence have been absent in most cases. However, the cities of Sanford, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio, responded with efforts made toward healing and social change.

Normally, the onset of an event leading to civil unrest and outrage often occurs in an environment without structures that involve citizens’ active participation in the response. Structures offering community dialogues and mediation have not been regularly added to places where differing groups can come together for civil dialogue and resolution of problems. When institutional racism is examined, it becomes clear that it is embedded in the institutional laws and protocols’ explicit and implicit bias, and discrimination toward blacks, particularly black boys and men (Wilson et al., 2014).

In the current environment, we find that black boys and men are stopped by police and interrogated even when not under suspicion for unlawful activity. More black men reside in prisons in the United States today than the total population of slaves living in the United States during the 1800s. This is a clear indication that, within the institutional consciousness, racist understanding, beliefs, accompanying bias, and discrimination have not ended. Institutional racism must be addressed by changing laws and attitudes in order to remove historical racist practices and approaches.

Literature Review

Overview of the Problem of Youth Violence

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), homicide disproportionately affects persons aged 10 to 24 years in the United States. The CDC further mentions that homicide for this age group ranks in the top-three leading causes of death along with an estimated $9 billion in lost productivity and medical costs in 2010. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS, 2010), 4,828 youths between the ages of 10 and 24 were victims of homicide during 2010, which averages to approximately 13 homicides per day. The CDC also reported that 707,000 youths and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24 years had physical assault injuries treated in hospital emergency departments in 2011, which averages to 1,938 each day (CDC, fact sheet, 2012).

Youth violence, especially in African-American communities, is still considered by many experts to be at epidemic proportions. According to Bryant (2011), African-American males account for the disproportionate overrepresentation in youth violence incidences that occur in the United States. African-American males represented only 8% of this population; however, they accounted for 51% of these homicides.

Bryant (2011) mentioned that with 1993 being the baseline for the peak of homicides involving African-American males in this age group, the homicide rate had declined over the next 10 years. However, homicide still remained consistently high for African-American youths and continued to reflect epidemic proportions. NCHS showed data from 2002 through 2005, where African-American males constituted 8% of the youth population in the 14–19-year age group, but accounted for 44% to 49% of the total number of homicides (NCHS, 2008). An even more alarming statistic of increasing homicide rates began to emerge from 2002 to 2007 for African-American male juveniles.

One of the central questions that has often been raised by many experts in the field of social work, criminal justice, and sociology centers on why the African-American youth population (especially young males) is overrepresented in such violent fatalities. One possible answer is directly associated with the communities in which these youths reside, which have higher rates of violence.

Cooley-Quille et al. (2001) say that African-American youths from economically distressed communities are more frequently exposed to risky behaviors and community violence compared to their peers of other races. According to Gaylord-Harden, Cunningham, and Zelencik (2011), exposure to community violence has been designated a public health epidemic for adolescents residing in economically disadvantaged urban neighborhoods. Although there have been some successful initiatives and efforts made to reduce the incidence of violence in urban communities, African-American youths who reside in such communities often remain vulnerable to community violence. In studies of low-income African-American youths, 30% to 70% reported being victimized, and between 75% and 80% witnessed community violence ranging from assault to murder (Bell & Jenkins, 1993; Colombo & Senatore, 2005; Culyba et al., 2015; Margolin & Gordis, 2000). According to Cooley-Quille et al. (2001), the disproportionate exposure to community violence for African-American adolescents is likely the result of overrepresentation of these youths in economically disadvantaged communities with higher levels of crime and violence.

Research has shown that youths residing in low-income urban neighborhoods are exposed to significantly higher levels of community violence compared to those living in middle-class to upper-class or suburban neighborhoods (Anderson, 2004; Dill & Ozer, 2015; Gladstein et al., 1992; Selner-O’Hagan et al., 1998). There are also other findings that demonstrate African-American youths experience higher rates of community violence compared to their white and Asian counterparts. According to Abram et al. (2004), African-American and Latino students were found to be twice as likely to witness a shooting or stabbing in the previous year as white students enrolled in the same urban public school system. Research by Crouch et al. (2000) shows that African-Americans were significantly more likely than white youths to witness violent events at different income levels, with 57% of black youths reporting violence exposure compared to 34% of white youths.

Other research has demonstrated that, when controlling for socioeconomic status (SES), African-Americans reported greater exposure to community violence compared to white and Asian youths, and that race/ethnicity emerged as a more important factor than SES in explaining greater exposure to community violence (O’Keefe & Sela-Amit, 1997). Gaylord-Harden et al. (2011) commented that most research demonstrates that community violence exposure increases the risk for depression (Gorman-Smith & Tolan, 1998; Hammack et al., 2004; Schwab-Stone et al., 1995); however, some studies of African-American youths do not find this relationship (Cooley-Quille et al., 2001). Despite the significant amount of research that has been done in this specific area, the influence of community violence on the depressive symptoms of African-American youths has been inconsistent according to Margolin and Gordis (2000). Methodological issues have also been identified in regard to making such an association, such as the overlap between community violence and other forms of violence (marital violence, child abuse) that may make it difficult to identify specific relationships between particular types of violence exposure and symptoms (Margolin & Gordis, 2000; Turnage et al., 2003). Research conducted by Reynolds et al. (2001) and White and Farrell (2006) shows that for youths residing in high-crime communities, expressions of sadness or low self-esteem may increase vulnerability to victimization, leading to an underreporting of depressive symptoms. However, some researchers have commented that inconsistent findings for depressive symptoms could indicate that a desensitization process may occur (Ng-Mak et al., 2004). This desensitization process implies that youths begin to respond to violence with emotional numbing, evidenced by lower-than-expected levels of internalizing symptoms. According to Gaylord-Harden et al. (2011), very little research has directly examined the pathological adaptation model for exposure to community violence, but some support has been found. There has also been research showing that anxiety is a significant outcome of violence exposure (Cooley-Quille et al., 2001; Margolin & Gordis, 2000; Singer et al., 1995). Youths who are living under the constant threat of community violence may demonstrate physiological arousal due to hyper-activation of a neurological structure that manages threat (Lovallo, 2015). As a protective mechanism, physiological arousal may continue to increase or remain higher as violence exposure increases. According to Berson et al. (2002), males and females report exposure to the same forms of community violence. However, males experience higher levels of violence exposure, including both direct victimization and witnessing, than females experience. (Note: Females experience higher rates of sexual assaults.) Research has shown that approximately 50% to 96% of ethnic minority male adolescents in urban communities report exposure to community violence, and 33% report direct victimization (being beaten, stabbed, or shot at) (Gorman-Smith et al., 2004; Singer et al., 1995).

Research in the area of gender socialization theories mentions that females are more inclined to internalize their problems and males to externalize their problems (Harter, 2015; Spano & Bolland, 2013; Turnage et al., 2003), with male adolescents likely to report more self-protective (carrying a firearm) and aggressive behaviors in response to witnessing violence, while female adolescents report more depressive symptoms (Jenkins & Bell, 1994; Ackard et al., 2007). According to Gaylord-Harden et al. (2011), male adolescents may be more likely to be desensitized to violence compared to females, based on the research that has been done.

The Cost of Youth Violence and Policy Implications

According to Tóth et al. (2008), the increase in youth violence and aggression in the past 50 years has been called an “epidemic.” Youth violence alone costs the United States more than $158 billion each year. Cities in the U.S. lose approximately $50 billion a year because of crime and violence. Miller, Fisher, and Cohen (2001) estimated that juvenile violence accounts for 24% of all violent crime; however, these events account for 46.6% of the total victim costs that can lead to an estimated annual cost of $6.6 billion. This cost represents lost earnings, lost opportunities, costs of time, employment, and worker productivity, psychological costs, etc. Cohen (1998) in his research showed that the total economic cost to society of one youth reverting to a life of crime ranged from $1.9–$2.6 million based on an assumption of 68–80 crimes. Violence also poses key obstacles to the economic vitality of low-income communities according to Hardaway et al. (2012). Businesses are more likely to close early in higher-crime neighborhoods (Hamermesh et al., 2014). High crime rates in a community often deter business investment, particularly the creation, growth, or relocation of service-related establishments that would be a valuable source of employment for lower-skilled workers (Sloan et al., 2016). Max and Rice (1993) mentioned in their research that the annual costs of firearm injuries in the United States is $27.3 billion, which includes direct medical care and lost productivity with a 6% discount rate, where 85% of this amount was due to lost productivity.

Hospital-based studies have also found a heavy economic toll related to gun violence. According to a study by Vassar and Kizer (1996), where 9,562 patients were discharged from California acute-care hospitals after treatment for firearm-related injuries, the mean hospital charges amounted to $23,187 per patient. Nelson, Puskarich, and Marks (1987) conducted a study in Arkansas and found that the direct hospitalization treatment cost averaged $33,947 per gunshot victim. Cook et al. (2010) studied 800 cases of firearm injuries treated in emergency rooms across the United States using hospital discharge information. They found the calculated average medical cost to be $20,304 per gunshot victim. Mock, Pilcher, and Maier (1994) studied gunshot wounds at a regional hospital in Seattle, Washington, from 1986 to 1992 and found direct average hospital charges of $17,367 for gunshot victims, compared to $7,699 for stab victims. Alcohol and drugs were also the leading contributors to violence and its costs.

Navigating Unsafe Communities

Exposure to pervasive community violence greatly impacts the developmental challenges of adolescence. Nearly all urban youths are exposed to some form of community violence in their lifetimes. According to Fagan and Davies (2004), violence does not occur in isolation; it is strongly associated with concentrated neighborhood disadvantage. Growing up in violent neighborhoods can evoke stressful responses with physical, psychological, and social consequences, such as placing youths at high risk for future victimization and injury along with interfering with healthy development (Parker & Pruitt, 2000; Powell & Tanz, 1999). According to Teitelman et al. (2010), there is a growing literature regarding urban youths that describes the complex interplay of violence exposure, coping strategies, and outcomes, such as aggression, victimization, substance abuse, psychological distress, and poor academic functioning. Teitelman et al. (2010) did a study of three Philadelphia neighborhoods that have a high percentage of violence. The purpose of this study was to determine how community-dwelling youths perceived exposure to violence and how they identified and used available resources. The youths that were involved in the study (aged 10–16 years) reported high levels of exposure to neighborhood violence. Teitelman et al. (2010) reported that an overarching theme of safe and unsafe places had emerged as the youth participants described people and places, as well as their movements and activities within the neighborhoods. Teitelman et al. (2010) mentioned that the youths often have a finely tuned system of assessing their neighborhoods that is constantly switched on. These surveillance systems helped youths identify places in their neighborhoods as safe or unsafe, as well as recognize when these same places change from safe to unsafe. Teitelman et al. (2010) also raised concern regarding the long-term impact of having to navigate a violent neighborhood while maintaining a high level of heightened vigilance, given the growing literature suggesting that children’s cumulative exposure to stressors (such as violence) becomes biologically embedded, which can cause significant future health disorders (Shonkoff, Boyce, & McEwarn, 2009).

Teitelman et al. (2010) reported that supportive and involved adults were helpful to youths as they developed coping strategies for living in violent neighborhoods. Mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and, less often, fathers were identified by youths as being major assets for guidance and emotional support. According to research by Vazsonyi, Pickering, and Bolland (2006), parenting processes play an important role in African-American youths growing up in dangerous inner-city environments. The study’s findings suggest that other adults in the family besides the parents can become a focus of potential points of intervention to enhance health in inner-city youths. According to Teitelman et al. (2010), the ability of youths to identify someone with whom to talk, trust, and confide in was a key asset in their daily lives. The youth participants in the Teitelman et al. (2010) study also indicated that exposures to guns, drugs, and unsafe places were seen as stressors. Youths also identified neighborhood resources, including afterschool programs, sports activities, recreation centers, schools, and parks, as instrumental in avoiding violence. Afterschool programs were especially cited as being very important to young people because they provide a place for youths to “stop being around bad people.” What is very interesting is the fact that youths identified some places as both safe and unsafe. In the Teitelman et al. (2011) study, one of the participants commented about the neighborhood recreation center in regard to basketball activities. This youth commented that during these late-night sporting recreational activities, there were some incidences of physical altercation that took place, along with a couple of shootings.

Youths also mentioned various strategies that they use to stay physically safe. According to Teitelman et al. (2011), youths walk with someone else through the neighborhood, do not venture out at night, do not bump into anybody, avoid certain blocks, and avoid recreation centers during certain activities. Navigating through the neighborhood required a constant, conscious effort. The Teitelman et al. (2011) study also asked youths about stressful situations that they are often exposed to. The participants identified several types of interpersonal conflicts including bullying and threats, disrespect, disagreements, and physical fighting. According to Teitelman et al. (2010), disagreements pose a substantial stressor, especially when occurring in school with friends and others. Disagreements with family members were particularly stressful, because these important relationships often provide a buffer from other sources of stress. The Teitelman et al. (2011) study provides insight into how youths try to navigate around violent neighborhoods. The study also shows the duality of safe and unsafe places and the constant vigilance of these youths indicates that many of them are able to identify the significant stressors in their lives, even though many are doing relatively well in these violent environments.

Strategies toward Community Transformation

Case Example: Community Youth Violence Prevention Work Group

To help address youth violence and community safety, the Healthy Cleveland Initiative in collaboration with the Cleveland’s Mayor’s Office created the Community Youth Violence Prevention Work Group to help make Cleveland a healthier city. The Community Youth Violence Prevention Work Group’s primary purpose was to bring together the major stakeholders in the city of Cleveland and northeast Ohio region to research, review, discuss, and address this major epidemic of urban youth violence, which is seen as a threat to the public health and safety of the local community, as well as the entire region. The Community Youth Violence Prevention Work Group (CYVPWG) was also seen as an opportunity to enable local and regional stakeholders to jointly and cooperatively develop creative public and private partnerships in order to plan, develop, and implement major public policy solutions that can effectively address the major epidemic of youth violence that is taking place in the urban community.

The primary purpose of this youth violence prevention initiative was to examine the different causes of youth violence and the effect this has on the public health of those individuals affected by it. This initiative also examined the many different solutions and remedies that can be used to alleviate this problem. There is also a critical public health component that must be included in youth violence prevention as well. Youths who reside in high-risk communities are often exposed to violence, and they incur significant health risks for the development of heart disease, diabetes, and psychosocial diseases like post-traumatic stress disorder upon reaching adulthood. Many of these health risks are due to causal factors such as increased stress, long-term anxiety, poor living conditions, family dysfunctionality, and other harmful environmental factors that can, over time, prove detrimental to health.

The goals and objectives of this working group were to develop a holistic collaborative approach to preventing youth violence in the city’s neighborhoods through public policies and working partnerships among the various organizations that devote their time and efforts to youth violence prevention. This can be accomplished by learning and understanding what the individual and community/societal risk factors are that contribute to the perpetration of youth violence. The goal of this working partnership was to develop a public health and safety model that reduces the occurrence of youth violence by actively promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors that lead to improved health. The prevention efforts, if properly planned and implemented, should ultimately reduce such risk factors and promote protective factors at multiple levels of influence, which include individual, family, peer relationships, community, and societal components.

The CYVPWG planned, developed, and organized a series of youth violence prevention forums in the community to hear comments, suggestions, and insights from stakeholders, professional practitioners, citizens, and youths on the various causes of and remedies for violence. They held three forums over the past two years where various participants made presentations on different aspects of youth violence, including the steps that could be taken to prevent such violence from occurring. These forums provided valuable information from guest speakers, and several major themes emerged from the sessions. It was from these forums that the CYVPWG began to review, analyze, and discuss the information and data that were presented by the speakers, including comments made by audience members who attended the sessions.

The following recommendations are from the CYVPWG in regards to what specific steps needed to be taken to address the problem of youth violence:


There is a need to secure more funding for youth violence prevention initiatives, as well as enabling those agencies that already provide such services to increase their capacity to expand operations into other communities and neighborhoods throughout the city.


The use of the sociological-ecological model should be further examined as a practical application tool to address youth violence, since this model incorporates societal, community, relationships, and individual factors that greatly influence the quality of life in neighborhoods and communities.


Local and county governments need to work in partnership with each other towards a healthy and safer community agenda.


Promote more educational programming in the schools on conflict resolution, coping techniques, and mediation training in order to teach youths how to effectively resolve their differences and disputes in a constructive way without resorting to anger and violence.


There is a need to put greater efforts into generating more employment opportunities for youths and young adults, since data has shown that an increase in youth employment is associated with a decrease in delinquency.


Develop a strategic youth development funding strategy that places emphasis on examining what the major priority needs are of the youths and young adults in the community; determine what the top priorities should be in regard to specific types of programs.


Do a feasibility study on creating an independent commission that can closely examine youth violence prevention and youth development programs.


Efforts need to be made to identify those youths who have an assortment of problems and are in various service categories (juvenile services, mental health, children and family services, health care/hospital systems) under multiservice providers to determine if the care they are receiving is an appropriate match for their specific needs.


There should be a policy-driven initiative in place to increase overall capacity and performance of various organizations in the city and region that provide youth services and youth violence prevention programs.


One of the manifestations of the youth violence epidemic is in the hospital emergency room where youths are often brought in after being injured as a result of violence. We have found through our research that such youths are many times more likely to experience recurrent injury from violence compared to unexposed youths.


Develop a strong public health model for youth violence prevention.


Develop a comprehensive program on mental health services and treatment in those high-risk communities where the incident of youth violence is very high.


Strengthen youth violence prevention initiatives and activities.


Develop school educational programs for both youths and parents to understand and address the problem of social media violence through a collaborative partnership between school officials and parents.


Develop a stronger partnership among the academic research community, police mid-to-upper-level management, faith institutions, and neighborhood community leaders/community organizations.

Case Example: Implications from Lessons Learned

Community-Police Collaboration

With the emphasis on policing and promoting safety, a community-police collaboration aims to demonstrate police responsiveness to residents. While strategic enforcement has been proven to make communities safer, especially from violent crime, it was discovered through the assessment process that residents are not always aware that strategic enforcement has occurred (law-abiding homeowners steer clear of “known” trouble areas, and media only reports “major” busts so targeted traffic enforcements can go unnoticed, etc.). The issues that troubled residents in the target area were mostly related to abandoned properties and other quality-of-life issues.

This strategy follows a community-oriented policing (COP) approach. COP attempts to develop a shared agenda between police and citizens to address cooperatively determined problems and safety concerns (Teitelman et al., 2010). Applying this approach stimulates engagement which blends innovative (police/citizen academies) and traditional (foot patrol, bike patrols, community events promoting relationship-building) methods, are an open and constructive relationship between police and citizens, and proactive policing postures (Grimaldi, 2011).

The 4th District of Cleveland Division of Police already employs some COP best practices, including a citizen police academy, monthly open meetings with the commander, and email list serve. However the community-police collaboration broadens these practices and tailors them specifically to resident concerns—piloting a focus on abandoned properties in the target area (Schilling, 2009), freeing officers from directed patrols to walk the neighborhood, instituting a bike patrol, and allowing the commander and zone officers to tour the neighborhood to hear and respond to resident concerns. This strategy also allows for some officer time to be devoted to interfacing and collaborating with several identified agencies working to address abandoned property issues (e.g., boarding, mowing, demolition, sale to residents, and rehabilitating).

Community Engagement, Education, and Empowerment (CE3)

CE3 builds on the ability of residents to connect with one another, as well as with the police, to establish a network of interconnected programs that will be created, managed, and implemented by residents (transitioning over time) to address needs as they arise in the targeted area.

The Cleveland site of the federal Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation BCJI program has adopted a community efficacy framework—the “willingness of local residents to intervene for the common good” based on trust and relationships among residents (Sampson et al., 1997; Wilson, 2012). This framework dictates that strategies center on the continued empowerment of youth and adult residents, finding a role for existing grassroots neighborhood collectives and leveraging the pride residents feel for the community—both in its historic roots, as well as the new and multigenerational relationships formed there.

Innovative in the way the program elements are woven together, CE3 incorporates intergenerational programming and neighborhood pride to help establish positive social norms emphasizing safety, neighborhood advocacy, and engagement (reflecting elements of trauma-informed community building as established by Kirven (2014) and Rose (2014).

CE3 capitalizes on the existing system of block clubs in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, established by the Mt. Pleasant community zone (MPCZ), to draw together residents to discuss community concerns and mobilize for change (Speer & Christens, 2012). Models like this have a deep history in neighborhood preservation and revitalization of urban neighborhoods, with active block clubs working to acquire resources, maintain local areas, and build systems of informal social control.

Given the aging demographic, CE3 has been designed to give seniors a safe outlet to participate in community events. Moreover, the intergenerational components (e.g., small volunteer projects, oral history workshops) provide venues for old and young to learn from one another (Bernal & Froman, 1987).

Suggested community deliverables will be the BCJI newsletter and website; distribution of outreach materials to local businesses (laundromats, barbershops, salons); creation and branding of a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook; an annual meeting on the BCJI progress, as well as public meetings at least once a quarter with law enforcement and the resident planning body (BCJI Community Council). Most scheduled meetings will be open to the public. Churches will distribute project updates in their weekly bulletins.

Plans for Ongoing Research

Working with CE3, the community implementation team will conduct an annual community perception survey focusing on resident’s perceptions of police, community safety, and livability. Researchers will work with residents to distribute the survey and compile results, with the intention that the efforts will be sustained within the neighborhood block clubs after the main period of the grant. Measures have been selected (Murphy et al., 2008) (police legitimacy/satisfaction questions) to be short, easily understood, and easily interpretable. Residents will also participate in community-based research (e.g., counting park users to assess livability and conducting brief surveys along business renewal corridors). There will be reports completed biannually and communicated to residents and youths living in the targeted zone.

The Cleveland BCJI team works not only to record residents’ input, but to provide a meaningful avenue to strengthen residents’ communication with law enforcement, local government, and their business community. Community engagement is imbued within the proposed strategies (described earlier); however, three important community roles are central to success:


Community Council

CE3 will identify and empower representatives of the community who are selected by fellow residents to serve in an advisory role through the creation of a BCJI Community Council. The council will create and establish committees of residents to participate in the planning and action steps throughout the implementation phase. Members of the BCJI Community Council will attend district command’s safety meetings (monthly) and local block clubs in soliciting pertinent information and feedback.


Focus on Youths

CE3 will involve youths (12–17) and young adults (18–30) as active community partners. Proposed new initiatives developed for youths will be a Youth Citizen Police Academy and an Employment 2 Empowerment Readiness Program (through CE3). The intent of youth engagement is to record their voices and perspectives as to how the initiative can impact them, as well as strengthen their engagement. The primary goal is to dispel the notion that “youths are the problem” and work to challenge that assumption within the community and combat the stigma that youths face. The Cleveland 4th District BCJI has determined that it is important for adults (community members, businesses, government, and police) to validate the role of youths as part of the solution. The youths will collaborate to design projects as part of the neighborhood revitalization mini-grant process and also have a role in determining the signature initiative. In addition, youths will also be encouraged to “adopt” existing neighborhood efforts to build intergenerational programs (especially with the younger group).


Residents in Research

While still meeting the high empirical standards, the Cleveland BCJI team aims to provide residents with a foundational knowledge of research, following the core activities of a community-based participatory research philosophy. Residents, using CE3, will work with researchers to select tools (from a series of validated measures), determine the research processes, collect data, and interpret results. This will allow residents to be better consumers of the assessments they are presented (e.g., housing stock surveys and development plans), as well as provide the block-club structure with the means for conducting independent research once the project ends.

Case Example: The Community Action Reinforcing Empowerment® (CARE) Model

In response to the needs surrounding a university in the mid-South, one of the authors met with colleagues and discussed the development of a field education placement site in a community across the street from the university. In 2009, the chair of the department of social work and the dean of the college were supportive, and a meeting with the mayor and police chief led to the development of a field education site in the community. One of the authors met a HUD representative at a community meeting who offered (at no rental fee) a two-bedroom duplex in the community to house the field education site. In addition to four graduate student interns who initially worked on community engagement, an assignment was developed for an advanced undergraduate macro course. The students conducted a community needs assessment by completing a windshield survey of the community and interviewing residents about their perceptions of the community and the strengths and needs of the community.

One of the authors began to reach out to other departments in the university that might be able to offer services in the community as well. Eight departments were interested in collaborating with the department of social work. The first collaboration was with the digital communication students who assisted in developing an online directory of social and economic service providers in the northeast section of the state. After the first year of the CARE unit, one the authors left the university and relocated to central Florida.

Using the CARE model developed earlier in another community, the authors discussed the concept in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and the community crisis it had precipitated. The authors were concerned that in similar high-profile civic crises, there were no institutional mechanisms, as part of city governments, in place for differing groups to meet for mediation of conflict and reconciliation. The authors revised the mid-South CARE model to include an approach to a city in crisis (Jacinto & Turnage, n.d.). The following key ideas were shared with an official in the City Manager’s Office in Sanford. The adaptation of the CARE model included a proposed coalition of partners composed of residents, city officials, faith-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, members of the business community, social service providers, law enforcement, university professors, instructors, and students whose intent was to develop a vision that would transform the targeted community and its neighborhoods into an inclusive and united city that welcomes many diverse communities. The CARE reconciliation coalition (RC) would provide ongoing opportunities to foster healing for the citizens of Sanford through (a) dialogue about past and present community issues; (b) reconciliation across all communities; and (c) a coalition of government officials, faith-based organizations, civic groups, business owners, Seminole County schools, Sanford residents, academic researchers, students, and practitioners with the intent to facilitate healing and reconciliation in the city of Sanford and surrounding communities.

A reconciliation plan was proposed that included (a) a school of social work (SSW) asset and needs assessment of the city with a focus on the at-risk communities; (b) the SSW faculty and students would engage residents and provide consultation regarding the development of the asset and needs assessment questions; and (c) as the implementation of the asset and needs assessment was to take place, partners in the city of Sanford, the University of Central Florida, and others would be invited to join in the change efforts based on the focus and expertise of coalition members that could be shared with the community. In addition to the reconciliation plan, several measures of success were recognized, including an increased ability of citizens to appreciate differences, a reduction in community violence, opportunities to celebrate diversity, and an increase in the use of mediation services within the community.

A Mission Statement Was Created

The mission of the UCF Care is to empower the residents of Sanford, Florida, to enhance the quality of their lives. The first community where a CARE unit will be developed is Historic Goldsboro.

Proceeding from the mission statement, the authors suggested two community engagement efforts: First, there are a number of services offered to residents of Sanford by public, faith-based, and private individuals. UCF Sanford RC is committed to community development; therefore, we will seek citizens’ input to address the social and economic needs of the community. In addition, the coalition will partner with residents and existing providers to develop additional resources to improve the quality of life for those living in the area. Second, a community action team (CAT) will be developed and consist of residents within the area; they will act as key informants. The CAT members are valuable in that they are able to bridge information to the UCF Sanford Reconciliation Coalition, as well as the community. Residents will also participate in planning and implementing change efforts. The proposal involves the development of a student field education site to address the social and economic needs of the citizens of Sanford.

The UCF CARE model as applied to the situation in Sanford would include:


Assessment of individual needs and linking area residents to agencies that can provide social and economic services;


A community needs assessment that will include a windshield survey and interviews of residents;


A community asset assessment that will catalog the various public and private social and economic service providers that can be accessed by Historic Goldsboro residents;


Educational groups that can provide support for local residents who are experiencing a number of life issues;


Focus groups to assess the needs of the community;


Identification of natural leaders in the Historic Goldsboro community in order to partner with them to discuss and plan for community development; and


Exploring the needs of all citizens of Historic Goldsboro in order to plan for effective ways to provide residents with resources to meet their needs.

The CARE model is adaptable to fit the unique characteristics and nature of a community. A summary of the key ideas associated with the CARE model includes:


Assessing and identifying individual and family needs;


Conducting focus groups to assess the needs of the community;


Identifying natural leaders in the community in order to partner with them to discuss and plan for community development;


Exploring the needs of all citizens in order to plan for effective ways to provide residents with resources to meet their needs;


Linking residents with agencies that can offer them assistance to address current problems; and


Developing and conducting educational groups that can provide support for local residents who are experiencing a number of life issues.

The CARE model was not implemented as outlined in its original form since a high-profile murder had occurred, and Sanford had already embarked on a plan of action that was in the implementation process. Sanford had already applied several of the components of the CARE model in its response to the crisis. The Nine-Point Plan in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and historical issues of discrimination in Sanford sought to transform the community through opportunities for civil dialogue and citizen participation in the planning and transformation of the city. The type of collaboration with existing governmental, community, private, faith-based, and nonprofit organizations will vary by community. The CARE framework was developed in a community that was at risk, not in response to an event that enveloped the community in crisis. As the future unfolds, use of the steps may apply when assessing community needs, engaging citizens to participate in the change process, and implementing services for the citizens of Sanford.

A Case Example of a Community Response to Civil Unrest

In 2012, a Latino neighborhood-watch volunteer shot and killed Trayvon Martin (CNN, 2013). This case was the focus national attention. The death of Trayvon Martin highlighted the longstanding wounds that had been incurred by citizens in the community for more than 100 years. Unaddressed anger surfaced that led to public protests. Sanford residents were concerned with the number of young African-American men murdered during the past several years (A. Thomas, pers. comm., December 2012). While George Zimmerman did not work for the Sanford Police Department, the department did not have good community relations throughout the city. Parents, siblings, and concerned citizens called for a change in the way the Sanford Police Department conducted policing efforts in the city.

In assessing the situation, Sanford officials noted that previous high-profile killings did not begin to engage the community in the healing process, and they determined that addressing healing and reconciliation prior to a high-profile trial would be an important approach to the crisis. In listening to the concerns of local citizens and parents who had lost young men, it was important for the city to develop a proactive plan to address dispute resolution between citizens and government entities in the future. The development of a Department of Community Relations would be a long-term solution to historical problems that had not been resolved in the past.

Sanford’s Nine-Point Plan to Address Community Concerns

In summer of 2012, the authors contacted Sanford’s City Manager’s Office to offer university collaboration with the city’s efforts regarding the high-profile Zimmerman trial. In the discussion of the idea of a reconciliation coalition, it became clear that Sanford had already begun a similar process; therefore, the CARE model had to be adapted to fit the framework outlined by the city. There was great concern about the high potential for civil unrest in Sanford. The main observation the authors made was that other cities did not establish an office to address citizen differences and grievances. This concern had already been addressed in Sanford. The Office of Community Relations could address the need for mediation and, down the road, reconciliation between citizens with grievances. The Office of Community Relations is a major step and an elegant model in reversing institutional racism. The City Manager’s staff had already been working on a Nine-Point Plan in response to issues that preexisted the murder of Trayvon Martin. The Nine-Point Plan included:


DOJ investigation of the Sanford Police Department

The Department of Justice Division of Special Litigation and Civil Rights Patterns and Practice Program conducted an investigation of the Sanford Police Department’s overall pattern and practice related to possible civil rights violations in the past and present. One of the outcomes of the investigation recommended improvement of community policing practices and procedures. The investigation was completed.


Development of an Office of Community Relations

Explore the development of an Office of Community Relations with the appointment of a Community/Human Relations Commission. The Office of Community Relations will develop a formal working relationship with the Florida Commission of Human Relations. The office will provide a structure in which to address both past disputes and future disputes between citizens and communities within Sanford. The Office of Community Relations will provide a structure to facilitate healing and reconciliation between individuals and communities in the present and future. The development was completed.


Creation of a Director of Community Relations

The Director of Community Relations will manage the day-to-day operation of the Office of Community Relations. The director will oversee the development, coordination, and implementation of the Nine-Point Plan. The Director of Community Relations will manage completion of the Nine-Point Plan while paying close attention to the changing environment of Sanford. The plan was completed.


Creation of a Police-Community Relations Blue-Ribbon Panel

The charge of the panel was to review, assess, and suggest strategies to strengthen police-community relations. The Police-Community Relations Blue-Ribbon Panel will represent a diverse cross-section of the citizens of Sanford. The panel will investigate disputes and make recommendations to the Chief of Police, Mayor, and City Commission. The panel was completed in 2012 with ongoing status reports from the Sanford Chief of Police.


Development of an Interracial Interfaith Alliance

After the murder of Trayvon Martin, the predominantly white ministerial association and the African-American ministers asked the parents of Trayvon Martin if they could sponsor a citywide memorial service for their son. At first, the family said that a group of African-American ministers was planning a service; therefore, they declined the white ministers’ request. After deliberation, the family decided that it would invite all pastors to come together and prepare an interracial service (Orlando Sentinel, 2012).

The ministers decided that fostering interfaith dialogue would offer citizens an opportunity to address the racial history of the city and engage in a civic dialogue with its many communities and faith-based congregations. The establishment of the Sanford Ministers Fellowship fostered interracial and interfaith relationships through weekly prayer lunches (Orlando Sentinel, 2012). Reverend Jeff Krall stated: “The city could become the model of how crisis can create change” (Orlando Sentinel, 2012, para. 11). Before the secular crisis, the spiritual divide between white and black churches had not been evident. Historically, there were separate ministerial associations for black and white pastors. Through dialogue, the groups joined together, and during the Zimmerman trial, at least 50 pastors attended meetings. There were a number of interracial and interfaith prayer services throughout the city. There were large rallies where faith communities engaged in beneficial conversations. Due to the ministers’ efforts, the city supported the establishment of an interracial and interfaith alliance. The ministers were asked to develop a comprehensive plan to strategically address bridging race and ethnicity issues among the faith-based organizations of Sanford. Members will continue to examine the need for reconciliation across the city and develop an overall model for the future. The alliance was organized and has been active since 2012.


Establishment of an Anti-Violence Campaign

The campaign will include a diverse cross-section of the city, including personnel from the Sanford Police Department and human services agencies who will recommend initiatives that will improve community awareness about the effects of violence and their impact on community equilibrium. The participants in the anti-violence campaign will research and provide programs that reflect the best practices for reducing violence in Sanford. The campaign is ongoing.


Reactivate Sanford Neighborhood Action Partnership (SNAP)

The task of SNAP will be to facilitate community meetings that focus on the following concerns: (a) recognizing and responding, with interdisciplinary partners, to neighborhood problems with the goal of increasing and improving services to all communities of the city; (b) enhancing relationships and communications between City Hall and the citizens of Sanford; (c) empowering neighbors to build and rebuild neighborhoods that will result from fostering neighborhood associations and identities. SNAP currently meets monthly on every fourth Tuesday.


Continue DOJ Community Relations Services with DOJ and Ohio State University

The city will continue to support and offer assistance to the DOJ Community Relations Services. This is ongoing.


Increase Youth Training and Employment Opportunities with the City of Sanford

The city will expand the Youth Training and Employment Opportunities by inviting partners to cooperate with the city of Sanford and seeking grants to increase training and employment opportunities for youths. This is ongoing.

Case Example: Implications from Lessons Learned

Schools of social work may find the Community Action Reinforcing Empowerment Intervention Process a helpful model when reaching out to at-risk communities. It is helpful to work in communities prior to civic unrest that has resulted from a long history of social injustice. Serious budget cuts to social programs have reflected the kind of thinking caused by earlier forms of institutional racism embedded in archaic laws that continue to exist from the time of slavery. Racism must be deconstructed, and outmoded laws and policies must be changed so that justice for all is realized in the United States. A move in this direction by Sanford is signaled by the establishment of the OCR, Interracial Ministerial Alliance, SNAP, Youth Training and Employment Opportunities, and ongoing implementation of best practices regarding community policing. These significant efforts and establishment of the Office of Community Relations have begun to reverse institutional racism, thereby providing a pro-social institutional structure to build a foundation for an even playing field for all citizens.

Implications of the Lessons Learned from Cleveland and Sanford

The development of institutional structures that begin to reverse institutional racism are of utmost importance in assisting communities to heal by allowing citizens from all parts of the community to enter into dialogue. Government officials, citizens, and faith-based and civic organizations are among the key informants that need to be engaged in the change effort and participate in policy and development of programmatic responses to historical injustices. Healing is not a one-time event but rather an ongoing journey where citizens can discuss and dream of a future that involves different ways of relating where social justice is a key focus of concern.

Evidence regarding the effectiveness of peers in influencing youths to adopt healthy behaviors is limited, and more research is needed in order to determine the overall impact and effectiveness of these programs. More research is needed to determine if these behaviorally oriented programs are indeed effective in reducing gun violence. Hardy (2002) provides several suggestions in regard to what can be done to make such programs succeed. The first step includes community-based approaches that focus on reducing gun violence and require an initial assessment of community needs. It is also suggested that residents be involved in the planning and implementation of the program, and a means for evaluating the program must be developed. The second step involves addressing the false beliefs that parents often have in regard to keeping a loaded gun in the home. Hardy (2002) mentions that parents must come to understand that their children are at risk for serious injury if a loaded gun is in the home.

The third major point is that physicians need to be better trained to discuss the issue of firearms with youths’ families. Hardy (2002) mentions that more effective counseling might include an emphasis on the increased risk of having a gun in the home, assessing and reducing the fears that prompt parents to keep guns and alternative solutions to keeping firearms in the home (encouraging families to purchase safety devices instead).

The final point is that researchers, policymakers, and practitioners should question whether children are the appropriate targets for intervention before attempting to develop such programs for this targeted population. Hardy (2002) comments that believing children can learn to make life-or-death decisions regarding their safety around firearms may provide parents with a false sense of security and lower their state of vigilance.

The challenges to social and behavioral development as a result of violence exposure may be most perceptible in the social functioning of youths. Potentially, community-based outreach programs may be a critical point of access in disrupting the progression of long-term maladaptive behavioral patterns, provided their implementation is at the appropriate stage of problem behavior development and expression. Social workers, educators, public health practitioners, and police officers could substantially improve the effectiveness of violence prevention programs by addressing the behavioral and emotional consequences of exposure to local neighborhood conditions (i.e., gang activity and gun violence). If schools situated in communities with high crime and gang activity can address the specific needs of their students by teaching techniques that reduce tension or frustration in social situations, they might substantially improve successful participation in pro-social interactions, reduce susceptibility to negative peer influences, and discourage future gang involvement. Although interpersonal violence is attributed to a confluence of factors, prevention and intervention approaches that provide youths with an opportunity to openly address their feelings and reactions in family and community contexts could bolster resilience and social support among youths exposed to multiple risk factors and fears.

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