While every city has social and cultural dynamics that are unique to its history and population, there are underlying drivers of violence that many cities have in common, such as the segregation of communities, unequal access to public services and education, weak infrastructure, and insufficient opportunities for employment. In a conversation with American activist Ameena Matthews on 14 September 2016, The Hague Institute focused on Matthews’ involvement with the CeaseFire program in Chicago, which works to reduce violence and prevent conflict before it escalates.
As a violence ‘interrupter’, Ameena Matthews experienced the drivers of violence first hand in the neighborhood of Englewood in Chicago. Growing up, she was never conscious of the disadvantaged position of her family. In spite of the high levels of violent crime in Chicago, Matthews explained, her grandmother provided her with a relatively sheltered and stable life. Circumstances changed, however, and Matthews began to see a very different side to Chicago.
During the event, Matthews elaborated on her personal convictions, her desire to keep the young people in her neighborhood safe and to show them that there are better alternatives to a life of crime. In the middle of gang violence and clashes between different national communities, part of Matthews’ success as a violence interrupter has been her ability to relate to young people on a human level, and to make them realize that their future is in their hands.