Gun violence in Chicago is nothing new, but the levels it has climbed to in the last few years has gotten every citizen and politicians’ attention. With murder rates peaking at 770 in 2016, the good news is the rate seems to be slowing in 2018, with 330 murders through July.
Still, just over 275 people were shot and killed in the city this year, with more than 1,700 shot. Based on these statistics, the days of Al Capone don’t look so remote.
A couple of years ago, Rick Meyers, managing director at Bernstein Wealth Management in Chicago, was talking to a colleague about what was happening in the city, and said, “Why don’t we do something to make this our issue?” They assembled people from the firm and discussed “what to do.”
“What to do” turned into setting up meetings and roundtable events to introduce community leaders to private citizens and/or clients who also had the desire to eradicate gun violence, and “Creating a Safer Chicago: The Ripple Effect” was born.
“If you live in Chicago and look around, you know there is an issue,” Meyers explains. “Our clients care about this city, they care about the people, but [gun violence] is such a large issue that people don’t necessarily know how to [help].”
He points out that there are many organizations that are doing good work, but many are siloed in what they do.
“But all of them are impacted in one way, shape or form by the issue of gun violence,” he says. “You can’t think about poverty and not think about gun violence. You can’t think about early intervention and not think about gun violence. You can’t think about unemployment and not think about gun violence. You can’t think about how kids get to school every day and not think about gun violence. We don’t harbor under the illusion that we can wave a magic wand and gun violence will go away.
“But if we connect organizations with each other and connect people who care with organizations, then it is like the proverbial pebble in the water, which creates a ripple effect. And that really is the idea behind what we wanted to do, because you can’t be involved in this city, or with people who care about this issue, and not try to figure out a way to do something about it,” he adds.
Meyers, with his colleagues, worked to set up a yearly conference for clients and others who were interested, as well as set up smaller workshops and introductions. Some of the organizations who spoke at these meetings included the Heartland Alliance, which helps fight poverty, the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, the employment agency Leave No Veteran Behind and BLUE|1647, a tech incubator that operates in challenged communities.
Although Meyers’ team connected clients with these organizations, the groups started working together, for example, Leave No Veteran Behind worked with the Boys and Girls Club to help with safe passage and working with at-risk youth. Clients pitched in, and in fact joined some organization boards.
“I want to be clear that we are not advising clients specifically to get involved in one organization or another,” Meyers says. “Further, we’re not advising clients that gun violence is an issue they should care about. But we are providing a forum because we think it’s an important issue for those clients who care about this issue and want to connect.”