With less than one month left in his 8-year administration, Mayor Kenney made sure to sit down with participants of one of his favorite City programs that helps to reduce gun violence – the Group Violence Intervention Strategy (GVI) led by Deion Sumpter. 

When he and Managing Director Tumar Alexander entered the room, everyone introduced themselves, sharing stories about their life challenges and journey of growth thanks to GVI. Staff members also shared their stories of how the work has been rewarding and worthwhile. By the end, the mayor was almost speechless but couldn’t contain his pride for the program and participants of both GVI and the new Pushing Progress Philly (P3) program – a similar intervention program to support some of the most at-risk individuals in the city. 

“A lot of successful people are that way because they have networks of people, they can depend on to advance themselves or get advice. We want to be your network of people” said Mayor Jim Kenney when meeting with GVI participants recently. “We want to make sure you know that you have a place to come that’s not a police department or a police car, but people who truly care about you and who understand the talent that you all have and the possibilities that are in front of you.” 

Focused Deterrence 

Since 2021, the City’s Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program, an evidence-based approach aiming to reduce gun violence that involves members of neighborhood groups, has successfully identified, and engaged with people who associate and commit crimes together, offering members support and help – like connecting them to a job or a needed City service. The approach also focuses on participants understanding the consequences of continued violence and how it can have a negative long-term outcome.  

GVI is based on research showing that in many cities as much as 70 percent of shootings and homicides are committed by just .5 percent of the city’s population. They were able to engage 276 individuals at least once between August 2020 and May 2022. These groups saw a 38.6 percent reduction in shootings per week, and groups who received services from the GVI program at least twice saw an even more significant drop (50.3 percent) in the number of weekly shootings.  

The program is yielding such inspiring improvements that cities like Miami, FL, Pine Bluff, AR, Austin, TX, Louisville, KY, and even countries like Sweden have traveled to meet with Deion Sumpter, the director of GVI, in hopes of replicating the program to fit their needs. 

Network, Community, Family 

“This program saved my life,” said Rydell Middleton, GVI participant, father, writer, and director of a documentary about his life. At the age of 13, Rydell was diagnosed with PTSD, a direct result of witnessing gun violence in his community. After making ‘mistake after mistake’ Rydell decided he wanted more for himself. With the care and support of GVI, he was able to change his path in life and put energy into his passion for writing and a need to give back to the community. Through children’s books, science fiction, and directing Rydell can tell his story and help others avoid the mistakes he made. 

Other participants like Allan Burrell talked about how the program helped them get their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), helped them get jobs even though they have federal convictions, and even paid their rent when they were struggling. One participant who was formerly incarcerated and recently shot 25 times expressed immense gratitude that staff from the program helped him get the therapy services he needed to live. 

Staff members spoke about the close relationship they try to cultivate with participants, some stating that their phones are always on because “life doesn’t stop after 5 p.m.”. One staff member, Rasheeda Smack recalled the passing of her brother to gun violence emphasizing that “maybe if someone had been there for him, to answer his call, he would be alive today.” She uses her position as a case manager in GVI to be a ‘big sister’, that one person you can call who will always answer. 

Entering a new year and a new administration these participants are preparing for new journeys in life. They are preparing to start careers and families with renewed outlooks on life and a supportive network of people whose entire goal is their success and keeping them out of the violence plaguing Philadelphia.