An organized group of Nashville activists is looking to bring an anti-violence effort to the city that treats gun violence as a public health epidemic — like an infectious disease that can spread within a community.
Cure Violence is a Chicago-based organization that hires former gang members, or other people with street cred, to combat gun violence.
Marcus McAllister, a training facilitator with the nonprofit, says violence transmits the same way as any other contagious disease.
"We look at violence [as] it spreads from one person to the next," he says. "The more you're exposed to violence the more likely you'll commit violence and so it's the atmosphere, it's what the norms are in a community. And so we are trying to change those norms by hiring people that have changed themselves."
McAllister is one of those individuals. He used to be a gang member and he served 10 years in prison. Then he became a Violence Interrupter, working to diffuse tension and stop retaliation shootings before they happen. Today, he's traveled everywhere from New Orleans to South Africa to train others.
And last week he came to Nashville thanks to Gideon's Army. The group conducted a series of information sessions on the program in three neighborhoods plagued by violence: North Nashville, East Nashville and South Nashville.
On Wednesday evening, a group of about 60 people gathered in the gym at the Napier Community Center to hear from McAllister. The South Nashville public housing complex has struggled with violence for years.
"Nashville is not on an island by itself," McAllister says. "Nashville's rough, but so is New Orleans. New Orleans is rough, but so is Chicago. But we've seen it work."
Independent studies have shown the program's success. In East New York it led to a 50 percent decline in gun injuries.
As they played a short film about Cure Violence, Tez Johnson, 14, says he believes a program like this could have an impact.
"It's a cause and effect," Johnson says. "And some people they do think about their actions. It's just they sometimes they don't know who to talk to."
Rasheedat Fetuga is the co-founder of Gideon's Army, which says it spent $7,500 to bring Cure Violence to Nashville for the three information session. Fetuga says the organization plans to launch the program in one of the three neighborhoods they visited.
"It's going to be a really hard choice, but we are looking at the maps, we're looking at violence data and community commitment and desire," Fetuga says.
She estimates it will cost $500,000 to implement Cure Violence in just one neighborhood here, but that they've already raised most of the funding through grants, including one from Metro government.