MINNEAPOLIS - On Monday afternoon, President Barack Obama told a crowd of law enforcement officers that the city of Minneapolis showed that progress is possible; noting statistics that show the number of young people injured by guns has declined by 40 percent.
He cited Minneapolis's youth violence prevention and its "Blueprint for Action" which was started in 2008 after a spike in youth crime.
"We had about 80 youth homicides between 2003 and 2006," said Alyssa Banks, youth violence prevention coordinator for the city of Minneapolis.
Banks says overall youth crime involving guns is down 66 percent since then, thanks to a four-pronged public health approach attacking the problem. She says programs targeting youth connect young people to positive role models, intervene at the first sign of risk, restore young people down wrong path and help young people unlearn the culture of violence.
"We can have so much success, but we can't do it without addressing the elephant in the room which is gun policy," said Banks. "We have a long way to go. Minneapolis is a great place where we can get to a lower number. We can get to zero."
Diminishing youth crime statistics are visible just above the streets in north Minneapolis, in the Emerge office, where the North 4 Project was launched. It links former gang members to education and employment, focusing on four north Minneapolis neighborhoods, where around half of the city's homicides occur each year.
"It's a blessing I am still alive here today," said Tyron Jenkins, 21, a reformed gang member from north Minneapolis, who found the program after surviving a drive-by shooting last year.
"It's easier to get a gun that to get your driver's license here," said Isaiah Harness, 21, who now says he has access to internships, college classes and jobs. He's studying accounting, and calls the program a "blessing."
Since 2010, 51 young men have been through the North 4 Project.
"To this day everyone is alive, we haven't had a funeral yet," said program coordinator Will Wallace, who recruits young men off the streets, and relates to their struggles as a former gang member himself.
"How do you get kids off the streets, well you give them a job, you put them behind a counter," said Santos Flores, 21, another reformed gang member who is now in college.
Banks says results can also be linked to Minneapolis Juvenile Supervision Center located at Minneapolis City Hall, which helps truant teens at the first sign of trouble, connecting them with needed programs, even following up on youth six months later. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
"We served 3,300 kids last year. We know kids safe while they are here and they are returning them to a safe environment," said Blaine Turnbull, who runs the JSC.
Minneapolis just became part of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention as one of ten cities chosen by the federal government to be a part of a national conversation on stopping youth crime.
Banks says it will help Minneapolis fight for more program funding and prevention strategies.
"I think we really need to look at how to make these neighborhoods good for everyone and not just for some people," she said.
For the young men at North 4, the interventions offer another path besides the streets.
Greg Williams, 22, is a graduate of the North 4 project and now works at the organization, and said not long ago, he had no one to believe in him.
"Now, I got a stable place, got my own car. This is the first time I can ever feel like I can communicate with people," he said.
To read more, visit the Minneapolis' Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence page.
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