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First lady boosts CeaseFire violence prevention project

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Laura Bush praises CeaseFire
First lady Laura Bush praises the work of the School of Public Health’s Gary Slutkin, who directs a program to curb inner city violence.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

First lady Laura Bush visited campus last week to add her voice to the nationwide chorus of praise for CeaseFire, a violence prevention program developed and based in the School of Public Health.

Appearing at a luncheon Thursday in Student Center East, she joined business leaders from Chicago and around the country who had been invited to learn more about the program, directed by UIC professor Gary Slutkin.

“Working together, each of you can help young people in cities across the country lift themselves out of violence,” the first lady told the group.

CeaseFire officials are seeking financial support from corporate America to take their unusual methods — which use former gang members to curb street violence — to the national level.

Slutkin, an epidemiologist by training, spoke about his public health approach to preventing violence, combining public awareness in the community with outreach workers who directly intervene on an individual basis in situations that might escalate to violence.

They aim to teach the community that violence is not normal and that there are other avenues to resolve problems.

“It’s a public health technology to use people from the affected group to speak to the people in the group,” Slutkin said. “Who else is going to be respected and have the trust?”

The first lady, who learned of CeaseFire in 2004, has spoken to Slutkin on a number of occasions about the program. She spoke movingly of the people she had met who worked in CeaseFire and the lives it had saved.

CeaseFire outreach workers and violence interveners were seated throughout the audience to talk about their experiences with other guests.

CeaseFire is part of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention. Slutkin developed the programs based on the same approach he used in fighting tuberculosis in San Francisco in the 1980s, then the international AIDS epidemic while working for the World Health Organization in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Since it was launched in early 2000 in West Garfield Park, CeaseFire has reduced shootings in Chicago neighborhoods by as much as 80 percent and is credited in contributing to the drop in the city’s homicide rate since 2004. The program now operates in 16 Chicago neighborhoods and seven other Illinois sites.

Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline praised the program and the effective partnership CeaseFire has formed with the Chicago Police Department.

Chicago is more than the city that works, Cline said. “It’s the city that works together.”

Slutkin praised UIC and Chancellor Sylvia Manning, who opened the luncheon, for the extraordinary support they offered the program.

UIC is a good home for CeaseFire, Slutkin said, because of its dedication to real-world solutions for real-world problems.

Related story
Promoting literacy, first lady reaches out to read in UIC clinic (05/30/01)

Below: Gary Slutkin advocates using public health tactics against violence.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin Gary Slutkin

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