A map of the MI-YVPC core project cities for 2021-2026. Muskegon, MI, Grand Rapids, MI, and Washington, DC.

Our Communities

Our research center focuses on addressing the root causes of youth violence and building the evidence base for youth firearm violence prevention in three U.S. cities: Muskegon, MI; Grand Rapids, MI; and Washington, D.C. 

While these locations differ in context, they share a history of structural racism, disinvestment, and economic inequality and are experiencing elevated youth firearm violence. In each location, dedicated organizations and individuals are working to prevent further violence and create safe and healthy communities. Our community partners in each location have expertise in public health practice and youth program development and implementation. Our center will leverage community assets, knowledge, and expertise through cross-city learning exchanges that bring youth and adult community leaders together to plan joint prevention campaigns. Our project aims to support community-based organizations in each location with their prevention efforts.

Muskegon, MI

In Muskegon, MI our Community Advisory Board (CAB) and the lead community organization for the core research is the Muskegon Social Justice Commission (MSJC). The MSJC is a coalition of community organizations and government agencies that was established in 2019 with the mission to provide leadership in coordinating community action and fostering an environment of non-violence. MSJC aims to implement prevention strategies that address the underlying causes of youth violence and firearm violence such as racism, poverty, and underfunded schools.

Muskegon youth experience multiple risk factors for firearm violence across ecological levels. A 2019 analysis ranked Muskegon County 78th out of 82 counties in Michigan for child well-being. Economic decline, racial segregation, and persistent economic inequality are associated with an elevated pattern of youth firearm violence in Muskegon’s most economically vulnerable cities of Muskegon City and Muskegon Heights. Significant community health disparities demonstrate the need for interventions that increase opportunities for positive youth development and promote community safety and health equity.

MSJC will work to support Research Strategy 1, the SafERteens Multisite Implementation Trial, to ensure its success by helping integrate the program throughout the health care system in the Muskegon and Grand Rapids area. Additionally, MSJC will support our Research Strategy 2: Addressing Root Causes: Evaluation of Youth-Led Strategies for Gun Violence Prevention (ARC-GVP) by connecting us with partners and helping with data collection, evaluation, translation, and dissemination efforts.

Other partners in Muskegon, MI include: Mercy Health and DeVos Emergency Departments, Mercy Health Primary Care Network, Fruitport Family Medicine Clinic, Hackley Community Care, Muskegon Pediatrics, HealthWest, and Gaining Unity through Non-Violent Solutions (GUNS).

Grand Rapids, MI

Research Strategy 1, the SafERteens Multisite Implementation Trial, will be implemented in healthcare settings across Grand Rapids. The city of Grand Rapids is home to the area’s only Level 1 trauma center, making it a key site for health system-based intervention strategies, such as SafERteens

Located less than 50 miles from Muskegon, the two cities have many shared challenges. Grand Rapids is also experiencing economic decline, health disparities, and elevated gun violence. Specifically, the Grand Rapids metropolitan area is the 26th most racially segregated urban area in the nation, with more than 30% of the city’s Black residents living in poverty, compared to only 15% of white residents. Further, Grand Rapids has recently experienced escalating firearm violence, with rates of gun-involved violent crimes rising by 17 percent between 2018 and 2019. The area’s violent crime rate is double that of the state average.

The implementation of SafERteens in Grand Rapids will be coordinated by the MI-YVPC and local partners in Grand Rapids to build capacity, increase sustainability, and support widespread change across the Spectrum Health Helen Devos Children’s Hospital care system. 

Washington, DC

Our core partner in DC is The True Reasons I Grabbed the Gun Evolved from Risks (T.R.I.G.G.E.R) Project. T.R.I.G.G.E.R was founded and is directed by Tia Bell, a survivor of gun violence, who is dedicated to increasing youth voice and leadership in gun violence prevention. She helped develop our research strategy 2, Addressing Root Causes: Evaluation of Youth-Led Strategies for Gun Violence Prevention (ARC-GVP) and has formalized a Community Advisory Board (CAB) and Youth Advisory Board (YAB) to assist with our process and outcome evaluation plan. 

Segregation and structural racism have resulted in decades of economic disinvestment in DC’s historically Black neighborhoods–including Wards 7 and 8. These areas are the epicenter of a worsening epidemic of firearm violence in the city. In 2020, the DC police department reported that more than 920 people were shot across the city, representing a 64% increase from 2017. Much of the rise in firearm-related violence and homicide has been driven by violence in Wards 7 and 8, where the rate of gun-involved violent crimes was more than double the citywide rate in 2020. The DC project site will focus on Wards with significant need for firearm violence prevention, including Wards 7 and 8. 

The T.R.I.G.G.E.R project will engage a Community Advisory Board (CAB) and a Youth Advisory Board (YAB). The YAB will help to implement the T.R.I.G.G.E.R project’s summer program, mentor program participants, and organize community outreach and prevention projects to raise awareness about the root causes of firearm violence in their communities.

Additional partners include the City of DC’s Office for Gun Violence Prevention and the USAODC Violent Crime working group.