Chicago CRED proceeds from the belief that the individuals most at risk are not the problem – they are the solution.

The City of Chicago is the undisputed gun violence capital of America. Last year, the city saw nearly as many shootings and killings as New York and Los Angeles combined, despite having barely a fifth of their combined population. While several other cities have higher per-capita murder rates, the sheer number of shootings in Chicago – more than 4,400 in 2021, including 800 homicides – places my hometown at the epicenter of America’s gun violence epidemic.

Yet, I am hopeful.

For the last six years, through the organization I founded, Chicago CRED, I have been working with men and women at extreme high risk of shooting or being shot. Many have been in and out of the criminal justice system; many have been shot; most have lost loved ones. All of them have witnessed levels of violence that would traumatize the most seasoned soldiers. And like soldiers in battle, they are just trying to survive – to feed and house themselves and their families and to stay safe in their communities.

Their upbringings were often marred by any number of adverse experiences: substance abuse, domestic abuse, homelessness, mental health struggles, joblessness, educational failure, or hunger. Most were driven to the streets by the same human desires we all have – camaraderie, validation, security, and love. They are the most extraordinary people I have ever known. Their resilience and commitment to transforming their lives and their communities in the face of overwhelming obstacles inspires me every single day.

Founded in 2016, Chicago CRED (short for Create Real Economic Destiny) proceeds from the belief that the surest way to stop gun violence is engaging directly with those most at risk of shooting or being shot and giving them a reason to put down their guns. Said another way, we believe that the individuals we work with are not the problem – they are the solution. They are the only ones with the experience, relationships, and courage necessary to do the difficult, dangerous work of reaching out to friends, neighbors, and family members and getting them to also stop shooting.

Our comprehensive approach includes street outreach, counseling, life coaching, education, and employment. Participants in our program have five separate adults connected to their lives, reachable at all hours, and available to help them cope with everyday challenges. If they have to go to court, we go with them. If they are homeless, we find them housing. If they have been targeted for retaliation, we sometimes take them out of town for a while. And if they are simply emotionally collapsing, we give them love and support.

To read more about CRED’s Place-Based and People-Based Strategies as well as the limitless potential of our participants, click here.

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Follow along as we work toward our goal of reducing gun violence by 80% in five years.