Gun Violence Awareness Month: Cleveland’s Peacemakers


  • Kirby Gaherty
June 3, 2024 - (4 min read)

Co-authored by Myesha Watkins, Executive Director Cleveland Peacemakers, Inc., and Sonya Pryor-Jones, Chief, Youth and Family Success Office of the Mayor Justin M. Bibb

June is Gun Violence Awareness Month and across the country, people will commemorate victims of gun violence and advocate for a safer future for cities, towns and villages. From June 7-9, many will wear orange to uplift the cause to eliminate gun violence and honor survivors.

Over the last year, many cities saw reductions in violence (including fatal and non-fatal shootings). The city of Cleveland, Ohio, is no different, with double-digit decreases in homicides in 2024 compared to 2023. While these historic decreases show promise, gun violence continues to be a pervasive issue nationally. Mayor Justin Bibb, alongside city and community leaders in his city of Cleveland, recognizes the need for cross-sector, multi-stakeholder, community-centered approaches to gun violence prevention and intervention. The city’s public safety landscape is rooted in public health approaches and elevates investments in the community as a key component.

The Importance of City Investments

Addressing gun violence requires strategic investments to support both proven and innovative approaches in cities. Through the Raising Investments in Safety (RISE) initiative, Mayor Bibb has worked to do just that. In addition to investments in traditional law enforcement strategies and technology, The Bibb Administration and Cleveland City Council established a donor-advised Violence Prevention Fund at the Cleveland Foundation to create a perpetual source of support for community-driven initiatives (initially seeded by ARPA funds). The first round of funding was awarded to 29 grassroots organizations across the city to advance varied approaches to violence prevention and intervention, with a second round of 1M in funding scheduled for the summer of 2024.

Coupled with the mayor’s government Summer Safety Plan focused on the built environment, this second round of funding will focus on communities most harmed by violence with best practices in interruption services, case management, victim services, and out of school time programming. The organizations will also receive capacity-building support and training.

City-Community Collaboration: Cleveland Thrive

Another way in which the city is leaning into public health approaches to gun violence is via the Mayor’s Office of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunity for Youth and Young Adults and Cleveland Thrive- which zeroes in on three things:

  • Cross-sector coordination and integration of public health models;
  • Targeted violence intervention provides a specific focus on providers working in the highest-need neighborhoods; 
  • Strategic evidence and resident-informed, data-driven interventions

Cleveland Thrive is working collaboratively to support young people across the city while also developing a Violence Prevention Blueprint that centers community-based organizations and those closest to the trauma of gun violence in its development and implementation.

Community Violence Intervention: Cleveland Peacemakers

Long before Mayor Bibb’s election, community-based organizations were doing the work to address violence and support impacted residents. As is the case in many cities, the individuals leading this work are not new to this space, even if attention and investments have increased in recent years.

Cleveland Peacemakers Inc. is a grassroots community violence intervention (CVI) organization organized to save lives. They engage with young people ages 14-24 who are at the highest risk of shooting or being shot. Interventions include court advocacy and support, hospital-based violence intervention programs, employment opportunities, and mental health services. Cleveland Peacemakers deploys street outreach workers, “credible messengers,” who help mediate conflicts to prevent shootings, provide immediate crisis response, and connect high-risk young people to community resources to promote long-term support and stabilization. These interventions work to prevent violence before it happens and de-escalate conflict before it potentially turns fatal.

The peacemakers aim to build healthy and safe communities. Executive Director, Myesha Watkins has been recognized nationally for her commitment to her city and its people.


Toward Safe Cities

As cities look to long-term solutions for gun violence, those that have impacted people in leadership and a commitment to collaboration from all stakeholders within cities lead to results. Through ongoing collaboration and strategic planning, cities (like Cleveland) have the potential to drive real impact on rates of gun violence. If the last year is any indication, municipalities are on the right track, even if the road ahead is long.

About the Author

Kirby Gaherty

About the Author

Kirby Gaherty is the Program Director for Justice Initiatives at the National League of Cities.