More than 200 West Siders attended a special screening of the award-winning documentary “The Interrupters” at Austin Town Hall last week as part of a powerful message presented by Youth Outreach Services’ CeaseFire Austin to empower residents to help save lives.
Violence interrupters have a duty to prevent shootings and save lives, and with increased violent crime, members of CeaseFire, a local organization dedicated to preventing gun violence, say their jobs are getting harder.
“The violence and negativity in our community are not the only way to solve issues,” said Robbie Wilkerson, community outreach manager for Youth Outreach Services.
“What you see every day is only a small portion of what the world really is,” Wilkerson said. “There are adults and organizations here in Austin that want the best for the young people and the Austin community. There is a myth that no one in Austin cares. They show that someone does care.”
The film captures the tales of violence interrupters who aim to protect local Chicago communities from the same violence they were once part of.
Directed by producer and director Steve James and best-selling author Alex Kotlowitz, the film features victims and shows how their lives have been positively affected by interrupters. The documentary considers violence as an epidemic and shows how, similar to infectious diseases, it spreads in communities.
Wilkerson said police officers in Austin have a duty to end violence by getting criminals off the streets, and he says that after-school programs work hard to nurture and mentor troubled youth to prevent them from engaging in criminal behavior. He said the methods used by violence interrupters work by meeting both groups in the middle.
“I’ve been a product of the Austin community streets my whole life,” said Nikenya Hardy, a 32-year-old violence interrupter for CeaseFire-Austin. “I am a former gang member from the Austin community where I had deep roots in that gang. What I did was try to turn that negative energy into positive energy.”
Hardy said once CeaseFire offered him a job as a violence interrupter in his own community, he tried to use his positive image in hopes the message would spread through Austin.
Hardy, along with two other violence interrupters in Austin, work day in and day out to in the streets engaging with high-risk individuals ages 16 to 24. As mentors, they work to show alternative lifestyles through positive behaviors.
“Violence is just not worth it,” Hardy said. “Sad to say, CeaseFire was not around when I was younger, and we want them to know that CeaseFire is here for them before they result in negativity. Everybody doesn’t make it out. We are here to let them know that the violence is just not worth it.”
Representatives from several local organizations along with elected officials, including State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, attended the March 5th screening.
“I’m glad that the film is shining a light nationally,” Ford said. “Many people are not aware of the help that we need on the West Side and South Side of Chicago, and I would hope that this film brings some help to our communities. How could we ignore the findings of this documentary?”
For more information and to watch trailers of the documentary, “The Interrupters,” click here.