RICHMOND, Va. -- Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. According to the City of Richmond, gun violence has an even bigger impact on young people.
In 2017, the rate of firearm deaths for young people ages 10 to 24 was three times the national rate. In 2021, RPD took more than 1,300 reports related to youth victims and crime.
Despite the growing issue, there are a lot of people who are working to fix the problem.
In April, Mayor Levar Stoney's administration introduced a gun violence prevention and intervention framework. Experts from VCU, the Richmond Health Department and community organizations teamed up with the city to get to the root of gun violence.
"Right now, our foe, our opposition is gun violence. It's poverty, it's food insecurity," Samuel Brown, Sr., Richmond's community safety coordinator, said.
Brown was hired for his role in January to connect people with resources and to help the city understand what the community needs.
"Essentially, we have a lot of organizations that are doing a lot of good work. My primary function is to bring all of us together."
The gun violence prevention and intervention framework was created to address and eventually stop the rising gun violence in Richmond.
The framework focuses on high crime areas and youth and uses a holistic approach with a combination of policing, intervention and prevention strategies to get to the root of the gun violence problem.
"Our crime data reflects hotspots in the city. We see a lot of crime connected to poverty. We see a lot of crime where there is a shortage of jobs or where there is food insecurity, housing insecurity," Brown said.
Brown knows the area well. He grew up in what is considered one of Richmond's toughest neighborhoods.
"As a youth member myself growing up in Essex Village, you know, we had violence. We'd be attending maybe the Calhoun Center and not be able to go outside and return home because of the violence that had occurred," Brown said.
Now, he's working to make life better for kids who are going through the same circumstances he experienced as a child.
"If young people can gravitate to something positive, they're less likely to gravitate to something negative," Brown said.
A little ways away from the Peter Paul Development Center, you'll find the home of Torey Edmonds. The community engagement coordinator for the VCU Health Research Institute proudly lives in the house she grew up in.
She knows most people view her neighborhood as dangerous, but Edmonds is helping her community turn around.
"I'm fascinated with how did we get here?"
She studies data and uses it to educate others on what resources her neighbors need to survive and thrive.
"What we hope to do is help people understand what's real. You can't just look at data and say, this is a community based on data. If we didn't walk away with anything else, they were tired of us coming in trying to fix them. The only time they could get any resources or services is that after their child had gotten into trouble, there was nothing in the community for them to do as a family. Where youth violence is the highest, there is no positive opportunities," Torey said.
Edmonds is part of the team working with the city to stop gun violence.
"We call it the gun violence framework. But it's really about human services," Edmonds.
Part of the framework uses money from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund organizations and non-profits servicing high-crime areas.
"This summer, we were able to fund over 30 grassroots nonprofits in the community," Torey said.
The city's plan to tackle gun violence is only in the beginning stages, so it will take time to see its real impact. However, Edmonds and Brown believe the framework is moving Richmond in the right direction.
"When we see that young age people are flocking to these programs or taking our youth gang and gun violence survey. In droves, they are taking it. A large number of the demographic that is being represented are young people. We are talking 24 and younger and they are taking these surveys and they are telling us what they think. They are being very candid, they are being very honest, and quite frankly, they are our experts. They are going to help us understand how we get through this situation," Brown.
"The biggest challenge that we have in the city is the narrative that we give about our young people. The community has been labeled as traumatized. These words are powerful. So we need to change the narrative, we need to change the narrative. When we can see happier kids, when we have more out-of-school time, activities for all kids, especially 12 to 17. And when we see academic improvement, because when kids are happier and healthier, then they are able to learn. And I think we're going to see a shift in poverty rates," Torey said.