American Dream Reconsidered: The New Architecture of Violence Reduction in Chicago

By Mohammad Samra

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From left to right: Moderator Vaughn Bryant, Miguel Cambray, Ric Estrada, Commander Ernest Cato III, and Teny Gross.

Chatter of an estimated 195 attendees filled the air at Ganz Hall on the second day of Roosevelt University’s “American Dream Reconsidered Conference” – a yearly conference where social, political and economic conversations are held to determine what improvements can be made as a society to help create a better future.

Roosevelt staff and members of the public slowly trickled into the spacious hall from as early as 40 minutes before the panel was scheduled to start. The topic of the panel, how to reduce violence in Chicago, had many interested as to how the panelists were going to approach such an important problem – including retired project managers Sam Farler and Lew Caliento.

“We’re both in a men’s organization called ManKind Project where men of all races get together and talk, sometimes, about racial tensions. Black men express how they feel about us and we listen.” Farler said.

Farler and Caliento, along with the other attendees, wanted to learn more about what measures can be taken to combat violence in Chicago.

“A greater understanding of what the efforts are,” Caliento said when asked what he’d like to take away from the panel, “If there are any opportunities for our organization to be involved and to help.”

Throughout the panel, one major factor that every panelist mentioned was the importance of collaboration. They acknowledged that not one outreach organization or police department can reduce violence in Chicago singlehandedly.

At one point, Commander Ernest Cato III of the Chicago Police Department shared a story about how he worked with Teny Gross to help an aspiring rapper living in a violent neighborhood meet with a record label in Atlanta. The young man was a major contributor to violence in his community, and a thorn in the side of Commander Cato. Cato recalled the moment the young man saw him for the first time since coming back from Atlanta, and the smile on his face as he showed Cato a song of his. The young man told Cato he wasn’t causing trouble anymore and he was keeping others off the streets, all due to the opportunity he was given. Ric Estrada, another member on the panel, asked the crowd to give a round of applause for such an incredible story – to which the air filled with a thunderous ovation.

“I found the discussion unbelievably inspiring,” Farler said, “The panelists showed their willingness to be creative, their flexibility in trying out new approaches, and their humility.”

“We have a number of organizations dedicated to changing the metrics as to what contributes to gun violence by striking up personal relationships,” Caliento said, “This is a very long-term plan which will show positive results over the coming years if these organizations can continue their work.”

Although many effective and potentially effective solutions were presented during the panel, some solutions were never discussed – which is expected when addressing an issue as broad as violence in Chicago in the limited amount of time that was given.

“What was missing, in my view, was how job opportunities in the effected neighborhoods would help or contribute,” Caliento said, “Also, affordable housing and training of police in de-escalation negotiation skills.”

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