The diverse crowd of about 80 people who’ve gathered to hear Garcia speak at a recent luncheon at a downtown church nod their heads in approval. They get it; after all, they showed up today expecting to hear such a message. But that’s not the challenge. The challenge is to reach those not in attendance — the indifferent — to convince them that their voice can be a catalyst to reduce violence, crime and poverty in the urban core.
The approach is based on “systems thinking,” in which problems are viewed as parts of an overall system rather than reacting solely to a specific part or outcome and potentially contributing to further development of unintended consequences.
CoreChange, which describes itself as “a community-wide effort to bring together improbable partners to co-create solutions that unleash the possibilities of the urban core,” will host a three-day summit beginning Feb. 17. The ultimate goal of the organization is to create an ongoing dialogue within neighborhoods that continually addresses problems.
After speaking at the CoreChange luncheon, Garcia makes a hurried, yet gracious exit, as he’s needed in surgery. As chief trauma surgeon at Cincinnati’s Children Hospital, he witnessed a 300-percent increase in children with gunshot wounds from 1991-2007, a statistic he finds unacceptable. Even as a trauma surgeon at one of the nation’s leading hospitals, Garcia concedes he doesn’t want to look back on his life and say, “I could have done more to help.”
Formerly a member of Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV), Garcia parted ways with the program because its concept relied too heavily on sanctions that he believes would invariably exacerbate the city’s problems. Thus the concept of CoreChange was born.
Garcia says solutions will come from examining the systemic root causes and not simply addressing the outcomes; the solution lies not in sending a person to jail, but instead providing positive alternatives and incentives for a person not to commit a crime.
He doesn’t believe theorists alone possess the capacity to unveil a magic solution.
“The solutions are going to come from every corner, every voice, every neighborhood and not in a conference room somewhere; it’s going to be systemic and it’s going to come from everywhere,” Garcia says.
More than two years ago, during the early stages of development, Byron White became involved with CoreChange while working as an associate vice president for community engagement at Xavier University. He says the goals for the organization reside on a larger scale, not looking to reach just 10 or even 50 people as some smaller groups do, but instead impacting 10,000 people or more.
During the three-day summit, improbable partners including business executives, suburbanites, community leaders and reformed convicts will be paired together to focus on root causes and identify solutions. Nationally renowned facilitators Peter Senge and David Cooperrider will help navigate the group to design ideas that will create a desirable future — ultimately one with decreasing amounts of violence, crime and poverty.
“I think people are wondering is it possible and is this the way to get there,” White says.
To see evidence of hope, skeptics need to look no further than the HELP Program, an organization that provides education and employment assistance to ex-convicts, referred to as “returning citizens.”
On this particular afternoon, HELP director Mike Murphy, a 72-year-old Marianist brother, is flanked by assistant director James Lunsford and board member Reno O’Neal, both of whom are beaming with contagious enthusiasm.
They inspire you to be a better person, especially after hearing the challenges they have overcome. Lunsford owns and operates a lawn care business; O’Neal recently gained his Nursing Assistant certification. Both are successful in their own right and both are graduates of the program.
“I’m in a position that I’ve received so many blessings that it’s time for me to reach back and pull others up with me,” Lunsford says.
O’Neal echoes his sentiments, “This program has changed my life drastically. I can give back now because I’ve got my whole life back.”
Murphy explains it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of despair and hopelessness, especially for those without family. He points out people in trouble don’t want pity — they instead want support, someone to show them a way out.
“You stay with them, walk with them, and it’s very expensive. I don’t mean monetarily — I mean in terms of time and energy. You have to absorb a lot of that pain yourself. You have to create an environment where you support each other,” Murphy says.
Prisons are a lucrative busness. The Ohio Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition reports it costs about $24,000 annually to incarcerate an adult offender, and about $86,000 annually to confine a juvenile offender. While prisons are booming, taxpayers are suffering, says Mount Washington resident Bob Miller.
A Procter & Gamble retiree, Miller speaks passionately about reentry, the process where after leaving prison an individual returns to the workforce. Stringent state laws that restrict felons from attaining licenses as a commercial driver or even a barber only serve to prolong the bleak cycle of being released from prison, not finding a job, having no income and eventually returning to prison.
Like many people, Miller says he initially fell victim to political rhetoric about needing to be tough on crime.
“Throw these guys in jail, that’s the front end. The back end is, ‘oh, now what do we do,’ we’ve got all these unintended consequences. It just doesn’t work.” He adds, “Look at California, they spend more money on prisons than on schools, and there’s something wrong with that.” ©
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