Danville’s Project Imagine plays a key role in reducing gun violence by empowering youth

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 5:33 PM EDT
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DANVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - A youth gun violence prevention program is playing a large part in reducing crime rates in Danville.

In 2016, there were 16 homicides. By 2020, there were 5.

Danville’s Violence Prevention Manager says the decrease can be attributed to a three-prong system - community, law enforcement, and Project Imagine.

“I’ve been asked, ‘what is your strategy on reducing gun violence with gang members?” said Robert David, Sr., Violence Prevention Manager for the City of Danville. “It would be the same strategy as reducing substance abuse in an addict or reducing anger in a person who suffers with anger issues. It is treating them like humans, understanding the root cause, and then trying to alleviate those root causes in the most respectful way while holding people accountable but not condemning.”

Project Imagine steers youth away from gang activity by helping them improve grades, focus on their goals, and gain employment through relationships with mentors they can relate to. The goal is to create a positive image in children’s minds so they can imagine a life without gangs or crime.

“We provide a safe place where you can take your guard down. Even if you don’t like that guy, even if you are from rival areas, or whatever the case may be, there’s a level of respect. Why? Because we respect them as people,” said David, Sr.

Project Imagine reaches out to the youth by forming relationships within the community.

“You can’t do this within a building,” said Curtis Artis, Assistant Violence Prevention Manager for the City of Danville. “I hear people always saying, ‘we’ve got to get kids in the church.’ You’ve got to meet the kids where they are. If you want them to come to where you’re at, you meet them where they’re at. You work with what they’re offering you at that moment and you build a relationship.”

They enrolled 21 kids in the first year and have now worked with over 100. 70% of them continue to stay in contact with their mentors and avoid conflict with law enforcement.

“I’m a returning citizen. So, I’ve lived a life very similar to the young people of today. I have several kids that have came back to me and said they wouldn’t mind doing what I do now. So, proof is in the pudding,” added Artis.