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People impacted by gun violence often know what’s causing it. So, a local group collected their thoughts.

First Followers activist James Corbin II poses for a photo on Jan. 20, 2022. Corbin aids former incarcerated people who struggle to rejoin society.

CHAMPAIGN — Research and social justice are often separate issues — but one local organization is using its connections to figure out how to combat violence before it starts. 

First Followers helps formerly incarcerated people re-enter the Champaign-Urbana community. The group released the results of their survey of people in Champaign-Urbana on the leading causes of violence. Almost 60% of people said they’d been impacted by gun violence. 

These causes are a big step towards finding solutions that will actually help combat gun violence, First Followers organizer James Corbin II said. 

“Let’s really look at the actual causes,” Corbin said. “Then you can start building a solution around these causes instead of just coming up with these hypothetical situations that are unrealistic.” 

Poverty and access to guns topped the list, followed by gangs, drugs, and a lack of mentorship and constructive activities. Although these results weren’t a surprise, Corbin said, it’s helping guide their recommendations for local leaders and organizations about how they could help address local violence. 

“We weren’t guessing these things — we were getting this already,” Corbin said. “This survey confirmed a lot of what we doing already.” 

Corbin says First Followers will use the findings to help guide a coalition of other organizations that also work to combat violence. Their organization suggests focusing on programming for local Black youth, creating a county-wide educational program about racial justice and planning more local activities and events. 

First Followers co-director James Kilgore says their survey is a step towards showing how many different factors are causes of local gun violence. 

“We felt that those voices were often left out,” said Kilgore, “[and] that it seemed to be predominantly elected officials, people associated with law enforcement, academic experts, who weighed in on these issues and got the media attention. But in fact, we wanted to reach out to the community itself.” 

Organizers working to combat gun violence can learn a lot from people who are impacted by gun violence, Kilgore said. But, he said they’re often left out of those conversations. 

“The people who are experts are those who are directly impacted,” Kilgore said. We need to find ways that their voices, their opinions, their experiences [can be] incorporated into the discussion.” 

Farrah Anderson is a journalist and student at the University of Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @farrahsoa.

Picture of Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson is a 2024 graduate of the University of Illinois. At Illinois Public Media, Anderson works as a general assignment reporter focusing on police and investigative stories.

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