The violence in Chicago has escalated to the point of absurdity. The murder rate is higher than it has been in decades. President Trump has insinuated he’ll send in federal law enforcement to stem the tide. But there is something positive happening in Chicago.
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The video below captures some of this new momentum. A group of veterans has come together in the city to help ensure that kids can get to and from school safely. The premise seems like something many of us take for granted, but it is an issue in Chicago, where violence plagues some neighborhoods, and where kids get caught in the crossfire.
Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB) is a non-profit that is working diligently to help veterans with student loan debt.
“Veterans come from an environment in which everyday they understand what their purpose is,” Eli Williamson, president of Leave No Veteran Behind, says. “When they come out of the military there’s this moment in which they say well, ‘what’s my new purpose?’”
When Williamson returned from Iraq in 2004, he faced a precarious financial situation. His student loans were due. He wasn’t alone. Roy Sartin was facing the same situation. Together, the two decided they’d write to Oprah Winfrey and ask her to include them in her charity work.
This lead them to a larger vision. “What if we were to raise dollars,” Williamson asked, “apply those dollars directly to the veteran’s student loan account, and then require that veteran to give back 100 to 400 hours of community service once that debt has been paid?”
This was the beginning of LNVB. Later, the group would put together service projects. In exchange for assistance with loans, the vets would do service for their communities. Hakki Gurkan’s project was what has now become Safe Passage. Gurkan had worked as a cop in Chicago, and that experience had shown him a dire need in his community.
In response to the widespread violence among youth in parts of Chicago, LNVB approached the Chicago school system to see if veterans could help. Tipped off about repeated violent incidents on the corner of 35th and Martin Luther King Drive, LNVB deployed 20 veterans to the location to stand guard, positively engage with youth and maintain the peace. Several weeks of calm led to expansion, and now, more than 400 veterans have participated in the Safe Passage program, positioned at several hot spots for crime in tough Chicago neighborhoods. On any given school day, about 130 veterans patrol the streets. As a result, the Chicago police has seen a significant decline in violence in the communities served.
“Our ability to come back as veterans and be useful to people other than ourselves is critical,” Williamson says.
If the video below is any indication, this is a movement that needs to catch on.