LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Students living around crime-ridden areas in west Louisville are taking the downward spiral of violence into their own hands. It’s thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who gave the University of Louisville a grant to reach those at risk.
All eight faces are students from the west end.
“I always felt like we was in a struggle but no matter what, if we had each other, we could be alright,” said Treyvon Neely a Junior at the University of Louisville.
They’ve seen the crime up close.
“It feels as if I just watched myself get killed because since I am from that area, like I’m just susceptible as anybody else,” Elijah Thomas said.
They’re all determined to effect change. “It’s personal. I had no choice but to get involved, it’s about survival,” Thomas said.
U of L hired this team to be the voices against violence. The CDC gave the university and a handful of others around the nation a grant last year to establish the Youth Violence Prevention Research Center.
“Most of us think about this kind of stuff. When it’s your lived experience, it’s something you can’t get away from. So, you’re already thinking about it anyways,” Monique Ingram said, Director for the Office of Public Health Practice.
Through a two-year fellowship, these young people meet every day, reaching out to more than a dozen local schools, researching violence and its history.
“I never thought I’d be in a position like this. I never thought this would be my first job, I always assumed I would be at some fast food joint or in retail,” Thomas said.
They’re designing and implementing a campaign that will be seen on social media and around the city come this spring. The hope is to change perceptions and ultimately, behaviors.
“It’s a neglected part of town, not a bad part of town,” Thomas said.
“As we empower them with knowledge, as we grow in our level of critical consciousness and their understanding of how all of these things work together, it helps to frame the ideas that they come in with,” Ingram said.
Students call it a privilege.
“I’m proud of where I came from. I’ve been in trouble before. I’ve been on the other side of this campaign. So, I know what I could be doing and where I could be,” Neely said. “My biggest thing with young people is definitely to challenge them to be better, to have a purpose and to do extraordinary things in life.”
Instructors call the small working room where they come every day, healing.
“If we can create a safe space where they can come and kind of chill for a second, while also learning and getting skills and actually doing something about the situations they’re going back into, then we’ve done the job we want to do,” Ingram said.