The scorching temperature wasn’t enough to keep these players inside – instead they showed up in full-force to participate in the community basketball tournament sponsored by Stand Up S.A. on Friday at Lockwood Park.

Teams hailed from across San Antonio for the program-sponsored event that is the first of three in a 90-day peace initiative, aimed to reduce shootings and killings in the community. Players of all ages and backgrounds had one thing in common: a predisposition to violent behavior.

Sponsored by Metro Health, Stand Up S.A. is a violence prevention program that uses disease control and behavior change methods to reduce and prevent violence in our streets, and is based on an international evidence-based treatment program called Cure Violence. The program has been in operation since 2014.

“We treat violence like a disease because we believe that it’s passed along,” program supervisor Jasmine Walker told the Rivard Report. “When you grow up seeing violence you perpetrate [that behavior].”

The health model uses the same three components that are used to reverse epidemic disease outbreaks: interrupting transmission of the disease, reducing the risk of those with the highest risk, and changing community norms. “Credible messengers,” or violence interruptors, work within the community to build trust with high-risk individuals so that they may intervene before a violent encounter takes place.

Violence interruptors are outreach workers who have experienced violent conflict in their personal lives. They are tasked with positively influencing the way young people think and act in emotion-high moments, redirecting them toward positive behavior and pursuits, including basketball.

“[These are] people who come from neighborhoods with a lot of violence,” Walker said of violence interruptors. “They have been through the system, committed crimes, and turned their lives around. And now they are helping others to not make those same [mis]steps.”

Violence interruptors are trained in the Cure Violence Health Model, which has been implemented in over 50 cities throughout the world; each of those cities has seen a significant decrease in violence. Through in-depth training, interruptors become skilled in redirection and presenting individuals with behavioral alternatives.

In New Orleans, the program saw a 47% reduction in shootings within the target population and an 85% reduction in retaliations since 2012. The program in Juárez, Mexico has seen a 24% decrease in killings in its first year, and a 13% decrease the second year – now going on its third year, they are expecting continued positive results.

Derek Taylor is the Program Manager for Stand Up S.A., and while he has only been on the job for three months, he told the Rivard Report that he, “saw the positive impact on [his] very first day of work.”

City of San Antonio Stand Up S.A. Coordinator Derek Taylor laughs on the court during the peace initiative basketball tournament. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Violence interruptors hear of violent situations through word-of-mouth and their involvement in the community. Outreach methods include meeting with kids at their school to talk about the benefits of an education and the potential negative effects of dropping out. They are contacted by family members who have heard of the organization and are seeking guidance on how to intervene with their child.

“If someone doesn’t talk to them, they may go down a path they aren’t ready for,” Taylor said. “My staff goes out there to talk to them, see what is wrong, and try to guide them in the right way.”

The program is concentrated around three areas that are shown to have a high prevalence of violent crime: Lincoln Courts, Springhill, and Wheatley Courts.

At the basketball championship at Lockwood Park, families gathered to watch the players compete, enjoyed hot dogs and chips, and danced joyfully to a video presented by a Mobile Fit San Antonio vehicle.

Arthur Bennett attended the event with his sons, ages 2 and 3, and said he was there because “it’s important to support the community in anything that’s positive.” For his kids, he said, “it shows them their community is safe, that they can come out and have recreational fun, they can exercise, [and that] they can be out in their community.”

Rosie Carrillo agrees. She came to the event with her 3-year old daughter and her boyfriend, who was participating in the championship. Carrillo said that events like this are important because it helps showcase neighborhood positivity.

“It shows kids that they can have a positive outcome, that things can be good,” Carillo said.

Violent crime increases during the summer months – and the 90-day peace initiative through Stand Up S.A. has two more events that focus on positivity and community connection through to the end of summer, helping to reduce overall violent crime rates throughout San Antonio.

On Friday, July 14 organizers will host a talent show and a program theme song contest at Wheatley Middle School. On Friday, Aug. 11 they will host a back-to-school celebration at Wheatley Community School and present the chosen theme song to attendees.

For more information, click here.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the Rivard Report.

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