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Chicago Mayor Pledges $36 Million to Mentor Youths in Effort to Curb Violence

In a speech this week laying out his vision to curb the gun violence that has plagued Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged $36 million in both city and philanthropic funds to expand mentoring programs for young men in grades 8, 9, and 10 who live in the city's most violent-plagued neighborhoods.

He also committed to expanding by one-third another program for young women called Working on Womanhood by 2018.

The anti-crime speech comes after a particularly brutal summer in the city and as trust between the police and the community they serve has eroded. According to a  Chicago Tribune tally, there has been 530 homicides in the city so far this year. The number of homicides for the entire year in 2015, was 491, according to the paper. The number of shooting victims has also increased this year. 

Emanuel's anti-violence blueprint hit on all of those areas. The solution, he said, included enforcement, investment, and prevention.

About 7,200 boys enrolled in grades 8, 9, and 10 in Chicago's public schools live in the city's 20st most crime-plagued neighborhoods. And without positive role models, gang members may become the ones they look up to, Emanuel said Thursday.

"They are on the doorstep of adulthood, and they are among the most at-risk of becoming crime victims or perpetrators," he said.

From the mayor's speech:

"We need to provide each of these young people with a moral education and a purpose, so the decisions they make today are ones they can look back on proudly.

These young men too often miss school and are failing their classes. In many cases, they already have faced serious school discipline or encountered the criminal justice system."

Some of those students are already participating in "Becoming a Man," a mentoring program that followed President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative. The goal is to expand that program to include all of the youths in the city's identified violence-prone areas to keep them away "from gangs and guns."

Emanuel said the city has seen positive results from the youths who are participating in the mentoring initiative. Participants are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school on time and less likely to be involved in violence, he said.

Based on Emanuel's proposal, half of the $36 million is expected to come from the city, while the other half will come from philanthropy and the private sector, including from companies like Bank of America, Exelon, and Peoples Gas.

The mayor called on residents to volunteer as mentors and on corporations to encourage their employees to do the same.

"This will be an opportunity for individuals of goodwill and compassion to help change the course of a young person's life and the future course of our city," Emanuel said.  

He also said the city will expand efforts to help young people who are not in school or have no jobs.

Arne Duncan, a former U.S. Secretary of Education who joined the Emerson Collective after his tenure at the department, recently started working on efforts to expand job-training and employment opportunities for Chicago youths who are not in schools and unemployed.

The focus on the city's youths was part of a wider speech on violence that Emanuel gave at Malcolm X College on the city's Near West Side.

Ending the city's gun violence problem required everyone to work together and trust between the community and the police, he said.  But he also acknowledged that the Laquan McDonald case, in which a 17-year-old was shot 16 times and killed by a white police officer, had brought the partnership between the police and the community to a "breaking point."

Emanuel also committed to hiring hundreds more police officers over the next two years. Officers will also be equipped with body cameras next year and will receive training in handling volatile situations. The mayor also said the city will support legislation in Springfield, the state capital, calling for stiffer penalties for repeat gun offenders.

"It will take a commitment from every member of the family we call Chicago," he said. "To reverse the rising tide of violence, we need to provide hope instead of desperation and caring adults instead of gang affiliation. We need to strengthen policing, preventing, penalties, and parenting. And we need to bridge the divide between the community and those sworn to protect them."

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