The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS) $5.7 million to establish a Youth Violence Prevention Research Center that will focus on West Louisville.
Intentional injury is the leading cause of death among 10-to-24-year-olds in Kentucky, and the second leading cause of death for this age group nationally. Violent crime rates for West Louisville are significantly higher than surrounding areas. In 2014, there were 338 juvenile arrests for violent crimes in West Louisville, compared to 876 for the rest of the city of Louisville.
“The CDC acknowledges youth violence as a preventable public health problem for individuals and communities,” said UofL President James Ramsey. “We are working to be part of the solution, as the Youth Violence Prevention Research Center builds on our Signature Partnership Initiative that reaches West Louisvillians and seeks to enhance their quality of life and economic opportunities, creating a healthier Kentucky.”
The center will be housed at Louisville Central Community Centers in West Louisville.
“West Louisville residents face disproportionately higher rates of violent crime and poor health outcomes, and we are pleased to join with other individuals and organizations mobilizing to alleviate these preventable disparities,” said SPHIS Dean Craig Blakely, PhD.
The center is led by Monica Wendel, DrPH, SPHIS associate professor and associate dean of public health practice, and Maury Nation, PhD, associate professor, Vanderbilt University Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Researchers and their partners will develop, implement and evaluate a community-level mass and social media campaign to change social norms – unwritten, shared mores, rules and customs that affect behavior. The initiative is aimed at reducing violence among youth living in West Louisville. East Nashville, Tennessee is serving as the control site for the project.
For youth in disadvantaged communities norms of violence are an acceptable means to gain respect, Wendel notes.
“Historical patterns of racial discrimination, inequality and lack of economic opportunity have helped foster these beliefs that promote and condone violence. When a distinct portion of the population systematically does not receive justice from the institutions of society, they begin to believe that the only justice they receive is justice they exact themselves,” Wendel said.
Wendel plans to recruit six young people ages 16-24 to work part-time for the center assisting with campaign development and testing. They will be known as the Louisville Youth Voices against Violence (LYVV) Scholars.
She says although many who work with youth recognize the importance of utilizing social media to reach young people, there is little published research about effective ways to use these applications for community-level interventions. Eventually, the center plans to replicate the social norming campaign in other communities.
Community partners include: Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW), Louisville Metro Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods (OSHN), Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), IDEAS xlab, Renaissance Creative Group, and KentuckyOne Health. In addition, once the campaign is developed, multiple organizations have committed to serve as implementation partners, including the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition, KentuckianaWorks Youth Career Center, Kentucky YMCA Youth Services, Louisville Central Community Centers, Louisville Urban League, Louisville Metro Juvenile Detention Services, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice, PEACE Education Program, Restorative Justice, the Center for Women & Families, and the YMCA of Greater Louisville.
“Youth violence has serious and permanent consequences for the individuals and families directly involved. It also results in significant costs to our judicial, education, and health care systems, while squandering the ability of so many young people to succeed in life and contribute to society. That is why I am proud to support this federal investment which has the potential to save lives, benefit our entire community, and create a model that can help other cities tackle this problem,” said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth.
“Too many young people see violence as the only way to resolve issues, and we’ve got to find a way to turn that around. We’ve got to show our young people another way. I’m excited about this effort to get out in front of the issues challenging so many in our community, and I’m thrilled to have our Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods take part in this partnership,” said Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer.
The CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has recognized UofL as one of only seven national Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention. UofL joins the ranks of Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Virginia Commonwealth University in establishing centers aimed at curbing youth violence.