For two decades, the Nonviolence Institute has been an instrumental force in preventing violence and providing support to victims in Rhode Island; the joint contribution will support its work amid a surge in gun violence.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With incidents of gun violence in and near Providence on the rise, Brown University, the Rhode Island Foundation and the Partnership for Rhode Island made a joint $500,000 contribution to the Nonviolence Institute on Thursday, May 27.
Widely recognized as one of the most successful efforts in the state in preventing violent crime, the Nonviolence Institute is home to a street outreach team, whose members work every day in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls to understand the dynamics of violence, mediate emerging conflicts and support young people in making nonviolent choices.
The contribution from the three organizations follows surges in gun violence in 2020 — when the number of gunshot victims more than doubled in Providence during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic — and early 2021. Among other serious incidents this month alone, a shooting in the city’s Washington Park neighborhood injured nine individuals, more than any incident in Providence history, and (in a separate incident) 19-year-old Tatyana Francois was killed by gunfire as she sat in a car in Pawtucket.
Contributing to the institute’s work aligns with Brown’s mission of education, research and service to society, said President Christina H. Paxson. In addition to their scholarship, many faculty at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and School of Public Health provide care to victims and their families in their roles as physicians.
Paxson noted that while efforts to reduce firearm injury focus importantly on policy and legislation proposals, the human side of public health plays just as much a role in the ability to make an impact.
“Gun violence is one of the most urgent public health crises we face today,” Paxson said. “Our collective ability to successfully reduce deaths and injuries will take collaboration across communities, data-informed policy and scholarship to test new solutions. Just as importantly, it takes direct, boots-on-the-ground intervention, and no organization has had a more powerful and positive impact in Rhode Island than the Nonviolence Institute.”
Leaders from all three organizations contributing to the Nonviolence Institute expressed the hope that the joint gift will inspire potential donations both large and small across the state to support the institute’s street outreach team, victim services work, and employment and education initiatives.
“We are pleased to join Brown University and the Partnership for Rhode Island in providing critical support to the Nonviolence Institute at this important time,” said Neil D. Steinberg, Rhode Island Foundation president and CEO. “Investing in their work will preserve the potential of a generation of young people facing challenges most of us can’t imagine. The Nonviolence Institute knows these neighborhoods, their residents and how to defuse the problems that lead to deadly violence. By supporting them, we’re investing in the future of families in our community.”
Tom Giordano, executive director of the Partnership for Rhode Island — a coalition of CEOs from the largest private sector and nonprofit employers in the state — said the group’s investment recognizes the importance of the institute’s work in addressing potentially violent situations with nonviolent solutions.
“Educated, healthy and safe communities are the bedrock of a growing city and a thriving economy,” Giordano said. “There is no more important investment than ensuring all Rhode Islanders live free of fear and abound with opportunities. The Partnership is thrilled to invest in the institute and their programs that have proven to lead to safer communities.”
Calming the contagion of violence
The launch of the Nonviolence Institute dates to 2000, when 15-year-old Jennifer Rivera — the state’s key witness in a murder trial who was scheduled to testify the next day — was gunned down in front of her house in Providence’s Southside. Tired of burying neighborhood children, the ministry team at St. Michael’s Church took action, founding the institute in its church rectory.
Two decades later, the organization’s immediate objective in any moment is to prevent further violence. And its impact has been immeasurable, with more than 10,000 violence-prevention contacts happening in a single year. Executive Director Cedric Huntley said the institute runs programs in street outreach, victim services, education, re-entry and nonviolence training. Its core participants are people deeply affected by violence who want to heal, give back to their community, and live lives of dignity and meaning.
“This contribution will enable us to continue to support local communities, strengthen program capacity, support staff resilience and wellness, and develop management capacity,” he said. “We appreciate the generous recognition of the value of the Nonviolence Institute’s work in the Rhode Island community.”
The efforts of the institute’s staff can often fly under the radar, Huntley noted, and new funding can be essential in addressing challenges and supporting a team that has for 20 years responded directly to violent incidents.
“The support that our victim advocates and outreach specialists provide for families at their most difficult time is appreciated in private moments by surviving victims,” Huntley said. “I have witnessed the power of compassion and the care that our staff pours into each situation. The bonds established are invaluable. We know connections open doors to begin healing from this generational trauma experienced by many families. The Nonviolence Institute is very often the bridge between law enforcement and hospital care that is humane, treating people with dignity and respect who often have felt unimportant.”
Huntley noted that this week’s contribution marks one of the largest from private funding sources in the institute’s history.
Dr. Megan Ranney, associate dean of strategy and innovation at Brown’s School of Public Health, said the investment in the Nonviolence Institute is a critically important step in understanding that stopping the epidemic of firearm injury and death across the state and the nation requires a true public health approach.
“What the Nonviolence Institute does so terrifically is understand that each gunshot wound is not just about the victim, but about the victim’s family and the greater community,” said Ranney, a physician-scholar who is a member of the institute’s board. “The type of work they do has been shown in rigorous studies to decrease the number of firearm injuries in a community. This investment will have not just an immediate effect on the institute’s short-term work to help survivors heal and escape the cycle of violence, but also on their ability to reduce retaliatory assaults that might happen — and it has a larger ripple effect in creating cohesion and decreasing the long-term effects of exposure to firearm injury on the entire community.”
Ranney, an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital, sees firsthand both the trauma caused by gun violence and the positive impact of the Nonviolence Institute’s street workers.
“Organizations like the Nonviolence Institute stop shootings before they happen by identifying the structural and environmental drivers of firearm injury,” she said. “And they reduce harm after a gunshot wound happens by being in the room with my patients. They come to the hospital, calm patients down and help us as physicians take better care of patients. After hospital stays, they help patients get physical and mental health care, secure substance abuse treatment, deal with the legal ramifications, get their feet back under them through education and employment, and assist families. They truly play an instrumental role in calming down the contagion of violence.”