Norman Livingston Kerr, hired as Chicago's violence prevention director, says he will focus on 'sustainability' for community anti-violence efforts, but his own staff will be tiny until the mayor lifts a freeze on city hiring.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration is adding a veteran gang-outreach leader to an office she set up to curb the city's gun violence.
Norman Livingston Kerr, a former leader of the anti-violence organization once known as Ceasefire, is set to begin Monday as violence prevention director in the mayor's Office of Public Safety.
Kerr pointed out that, although the city's two-year gun violence surge has subsided, the homicide rate in Chicago remains far higher than other big cities including Los Angeles and New York.
"We need to work together and drop egos," Kerr told WBEZ. "It's an all-hands-on-deck approach so that we can see these numbers drop and we can see more people enjoying themselves in Chicago, living longer lives."
Kerr will report to Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Susan Lee, who was hired by Lightfoot in June after making a name for herself in Los Angeles by developing strategies against gun violence that resembled public-health campaigns.
"I'm fortunate," Kerr said, "because we have a mayor who believes [violence] is the Number 1 issue and we have a deputy mayor who has been focused on it for a number of years and brings a lot of expertise around this issue."
Kerr, 50, was born in Jamaica and spent much of his childhood in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood. He has a master's in clinical social work from the University of Chicago.
He spent more than a decade with Ceasefire, now known as Cure Violence, where he helped develop an internationally lauded gang-outreach model. More recently Kerr spent seven years in charge of dozens of staff members for the anti-violence programs of UCAN, a West Side nonprofit agency.
In the mayor's office, Kerr said, he will try to do something about an old Chicago problem. Many community anti-violence initiatives over the years have sputtered due to fickle support from both the public and private sectors.
The work "really needs sustainability over the long term and I'm not talking about one or two years," Kerr said. "I'm talking about 10 to 20 years."
His City Hall arrival comes as groups that reach out to shooters to provide them support services and jobs call for increased public funding for the work, which has relied heavily on philanthropies and corporations.
Kerr said he will lead a team of four staffers — once Lightfoot lifts an indefinite freeze on city hiring. For now, he said, he will supervise just one employee.
Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ's West Side studio about policing and gun violence. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.