New Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention Receives Seed Funding from Champaign County

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CHAMPAIGN — A new coalition of small nonprofits aims to address gun violence in Champaign County.

Called H3 for ‘harm’, ‘healing’ and ‘hope’, the coalition is the brainchild of FirstFollowers, the non-profit group helping formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society.

“Although my organization’s name is on it, it’s not a FirstFollowers initiative,” says FirstFollowers executive director Marlon Mitchell. “There are other people under that umbrella doing the work. The difference is that we’ve taken a proactive approach to ensure that this time-limited money is distributed fairly to the people doing the work.

FirstFollowers successfully lobbied Champaign County to earmark COVID-19 relief funding for gun violence prevention. At its July 21 meeting, the Champaign County Council decided by consensus to set aside $1.4 million for one year of related initiatives, including $500,000 for H3.

The mission is personal to Mitchell, who says he has lost students in FirstFollowers’ workforce development program to gun violence.

The Champaign City Council has also earmarked $3.2 million for gun violence prevention in its US Bailout Relief Program.

All US bailout dollars must be spent by the end of 2024.

H3 members include nonprofits focused on mental health, education, and entrepreneurship.

Mitchell says these nonprofits respond to needs identified by people close to the issue of gun violence. For example, the nonprofit Business Elevator tackles poverty by encouraging ownership of minority-owned businesses.

“It creates jobs,” says Mitchell. “It also creates income for some communities. So [the Business Elevator] executive digs into marginalized communities seeing, ‘How can I help you get started in your business – provide you with that capital and attach you to a mentor?’

According to Business Elevator, less than one percent of registered businesses in Champaign-Urbana are certified minority-owned.

County council approves money for gun violence prevention, despite some skepticism

Stephanie Fortado (D-Dis 8) is one of the Democrats representing parts of the city of Champaign on the county board. She says coalitions like H3 and another county-funded coalition could be the change the region needs to prevent gun violence in the long run.

“One of the things that to some extent is lacking in our community is the element of sustainability. … Both are complete, they have a lot of partners, and that’s the kind of thing that I think could benefit from domestic money, “says Fortado.

While Republican board member Tim McGuire says he is skeptical of new coalitions, he did not formally object to donating money to the coalition at the county meeting.

“While I wish Martell [sic] great success and the other people involved, we are limiting the ability of the organizations and programs we currently have to be successful and we will probably waste – well, not completely – we will spend the money on programs that will not continue after a few years” , said McGuire.

McGuire says the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center is an example of an existing program that doesn’t have enough money to retain staff.

When County Executive Darlene Kloeppel asked if the council was okay with the plan to set aside $1.4 million for the four gun violence prevention organizations, all council members either nodded or are remained silent.

FirstFollowers will not use county money for its share of work during the first year of H3.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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