Two groups of St. Louisans took on a challenge this weekend that many in the region have spent years trying to address: Find a way to reduce gun violence in the community.
And there was a catch. The groups had just 24 hours to create a proposal.
"Twenty-four hours instills a sense of urgency,” said Antionette Carroll, the executive director of Creative Reaction Lab, the nonprofit that organized the event. “We have these ideas, and think this would be a great idea, this is going to change the world, this going to impact my business, my job and my school. And then we forget about it.”
The two groups that gathered at CIC St. Louis, a co-working space for startups, were small but diverse—two police officers, a couple of students, a community arts worker and a young man who manages a construction nonprofit. All of them quickly realized that reducing gun violence meant first hashing out its root causes.
“To be honest, some people only own a gun just to say ‘I got it.’ Just like a pair of Jordans, just like a pair of Robin’s jeans or something like that,” said local rap artist Cedric “C-Sharp” Redmon, as the group scrawled ideas onto brightly-colored Post-it notes and organized them on a wall.
That process, said organizer Carroll, is an important part of these 24 hours.
“These issues are systemic and institutionalized. We can’t develop a solution. So I always say we’re developing approaches. These are all drops in the bucket,” Carroll said.
In 2013, 133 people were the victims of gun-related homicides in the St. Louis region. That same year, there were 99 gun-related suicides according to state records.
At 4 p.m. Sunday, one team presented a program to rehabilitate a house in the Wells Goodfellow neighborhood. Victims of gun crimes, or people who had served time in jail for gun-related offenses, could be hired to help build the house, and could then use the home for mentorship programs afterward.
Officer Jaclyn Kelly of the St. Louis County Police Department said her team’s biggest challenge was narrowing their focus into something manageable—a shift that happened at 11 p.m. on Saturday.
“We virtually started over,” Kelly said. “When you have this idea, you feel like you just want to help every single person and change the world in 24 hours. Really you have to think about what’s going to do the most good.”
The second team developed a public art piece that would count how many people are killed by guns in St. Louis every year. Liz Pund, a community art manager for the Regional Arts Commission, said that means homicides, suicides and accidental deaths would be presented as one number.
“It reinforces the idea that this is all one problem. Even though there might be different solutions to address each of those causes, it’s the same problem and we need to be addressing it together,” Pund said.
The projects will be pitched to potential donors, said organizer Antionette Caroll. She'll next turn her attention to two more labs that will look for ways to address domestic violence and the stigma of mental health.
Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.
A previous version of this story misspelled Officer Jaclyn Kelly's first name.