Federal health officials want to help Louisville deal with and prevent violence in the city and particularly in western neighborhoods, where gun violence has been a growing problem.
To that end, the University of Louisville on Friday announced a five-year, nearly $6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a Youth Violence Prevention Research Center at its school of public health.
Community partners in the project announced the grant at the Louisville Central Community Centers in West Louisville, which will be home to the entity once it is established.
Dr. David Dunn, U of L’s executive vice president for health affairs, said the CDC has been working to prevent violence in underserved areas, which is a growing public health threat nationwide.
“It will be a way that we have a platform for making things better in the West End and other areas,” Dunn said.
In the past year, there has been an uptick in gun violence, particularly in some areas of West Louisville. Mayor Greg Fischer said those incidents have become too common.
“I think I can speak for all of us here when I say it’s unacceptable to have neighborhoods in our cities where violence is seen as a normal part of life,” he said.
Monica Wendel, who will lead the center, is a professor at U of L’s School of Public Health. She said the community is morally obligated to confront what is a complex problem.
“Different disciplines have tried a lot of strategies to reduce youth violence,” she said. “Public health has tried it — psychology, sociology, communication, social work, youth development, criminal justice, education — we have all tried to tackle it the ways that we know how, but we are not making a dent at the population level. Today marks the day that we are going to try something different.”
One of the first steps is creating a communication campaign, which will include social media. The school will also begin recruiting and hiring six young people from West Louisville to work part-time on outreach.
There is also a major research component to the project.
U of L will work with Vanderbilt University in Nashville to compile and analyze data. They will use East Nashville — which is comparable in some ways to West Louisville — as a control site.
U of L is now one of seven research universities throughout the U.S. working with the CDC to curb youth violence. Other universities include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Each university has a different program, and some are already well-established.
Community partners in the program include the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, Metro’s Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, Louisville police, Jefferson County Public Schools, Renaissance Creative Group and KentuckyOne Health, among others.
Wendel said this is an opportunity to have difficult conversations about what is plaguing parts of the community and why some young people are turning to violence.
“This dialogue is emerging,” she said. “It’s emerging locally. It’s emerging nationally. It’s emerging globally. And we have the opportunity to be part of it. And that tells me that we can change the narrative.”