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CDC Grant to Address Richmond Youth Violence Through At Least 2026

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Shootings and other gang-related violence has been pervasive in the Richmond area. Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control has committed to finding ways to prevent it.

The CDC’s $6-million dollar grant is one of five awarded nationally, designating Virginia Commonwealth University as a youth violence prevention center.

VCU works with partners like Richmond Public Schools and the city’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority, tracking risk factors, while looking at data from the schools, police, and emergency rooms.

Fantasy Lozada, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, is new to the project, starting a curriculum for African-American youth, asking them what they want to see in a safer community.

“(We're looking at) the descriptions of how they’re growing, of how they’re coming to understand themselves, and how they’re coming to understand their communities," she said. "So some of that’s going to look like interviews, some of that’s going to look like listening in on the conversations that youth are having with each other.”

VCU School of Medicine professor Nicholas Thomson, one of two grant recipients, says the multidisciplinary approach includes, for the first time, hospital-level intervention with community-level initiatives.

“Victims of violence, gun violence, stabbings, assaults," he said. "These individuals who come into the hospital – not only are they high risk of re-injury, but retaliatory violence too. So this is a really nice wraparound approach to where we’re able to engage with various populations in youth empowerment, positive youth development.”

The other grant recipient, VCU psychology professor Terri Sullivan, is also associate director of research at the university's Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development. She's hopeful this may initiate similar funding through the American Rescue Plan, and one day, through local funds

“Giving community members, with youth leading it, the collective control to shape the agenda for positive youth development, it just could be a nice synergy of things happening that hopefully would be able to create a structure that would outlast this grant and be sustainable," she said.

$6 million in grant funding over the next five years may sound like a lot. But Thompson said violence prevention funding pales in comparison to other public health research areas, even though the cost the community is just as large.

"These funding discrepancies do not signify that we need to divert funds away from other key public health concerns – they do, however, warrant a renewed commitment to accurately weigh the cost of violence, seek to improve our efforts to make our cities safer, and shift our efforts away from dealing with the aftermath of violence towards prevention-based solutions," he said.