Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention
Summit on Preventing Youth Violence
Monday, April 4, 2011
Thank you, Theron, and good morning.
I'm so pleased to see all of you here. Thank you all for making the trip to Washington, especially our friends from all the way out on the West Coast. We appreciate your willingness to brave jet lag and the cherry blossom crowds.
Before I go on, I'm very pleased that we're joined by a special guest from the White House, Valerie Jarrett, who's been so kind as to come by to say a few words.
Ms. Jarrett is Senior Advisor to President Obama, and she oversees the White House Office of Urban Affairs, among other critical operations. She's been a tremendous supporter of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, and her presence here reflects the very strong commitment of the President to the work we're doing. Please welcome Valerie Jarrett.
Thank you very much, Valerie. We appreciate your taking the time to be here today.
I'd like to recognize our other guest speakers, starting with the Members of Congress who've joined us today.
Congressman Conyers, I know the issues of youth violence have always been an urgent concern of yours. I'm so grateful for your support of our work under this initiative and I look forward to hearing from you today.
And Congressman Scott, my good friend, I'm so very pleased to have you here, as well. You've been such a strong and consistent leader on these issues, and I can't say enough how grateful we are to have your support.
And Congressman Farr, I want to thank you for your commitment to this effort from its very beginning and for drawing our attention to the youth violence problems that you and your constituents have faced in Salinas. It's great you could be here.
I'm also pleased that we'll hear a little later from Congressman Cohen. He was so instrumental in helping us get the Memphis project off the ground.
Later today and tomorrow, you'll hear from a number of additional speakers who care deeply about this issue.
Father Greg Boyle from Homeboy Industries in L.A. will give our keynote address.
Reverend Billy Kyles will discuss Martin Luther King's legacy at today's working lunch, and ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will join us to provide closing remarks later today.
Then tomorrow morning, Attorney General Eric Holder and COPS Director Barney Melekian will kick off our day, and we'll also hear from Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.
These are just a few of the notable participants in this Summit - we unfortunately don't have time to name them all - but the stars of this show are really all of you - the cities here today: Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Salinas, and San Jose - you've worked so hard to make your kids and communities as safe as they can be.
I also want to thank everyone from the Department of Justice who helped organize this Summit, starting with and especially my Chief of Staff, Thomas Abt. Over a year ago, he helped crystallize and develop what was then just another good idea on paper. Theron Pride, Eugene Schneeberg, and a host of others from the Department - I'm sorry I don't have time to single out every one - have also done a tremendous job with the Forum, as well. I hope they know just how much I appreciate all their work.
My Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Mary Lou Leary, has also been right there with us on this effort from the very beginning. The Acting Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Jeff Slowikowski, has been working hard to make sure his office's resources are available to support your work in the field. And our local U.S. Attorneys' Offices have been collaborating every step of the way.
Lastly, I would really be remiss if I didn't also mention Jack Calhoun, who as an advisor to the Forum has been a great source of knowledge and inspiration.
Of course, this is truly an interagency effort, with leadership coming from the very top at the White House. I want to thank our other federal partners - the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development, and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. We're so grateful for their contributions.
And, finally, I want to thank each of you, not only for your time here at this Summit, but most of all, for your commitment to reducing youth violence in your communities - and throughout the nation.
Statistics tell us that crime rates nationally are down, but communities across the country continue to struggle with deadly episodes of youth and gang violence. As all of you know too well - and as the Attorney General has said many times, and as you just heard from Valerie Jarrett - there are no easy fixes.
We can't solve these problems on our own. What we hope, though, is that by working together, we can focus on the long-term strategies that will ultimately put our kids and communities on a better footing.
So, what is the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention? As most of you know, it's a network of organizations, agencies, and leaders from cities and the federal government who are trying to find solutions to the problems of youth and gang violence.
Since last October, the cities have been working on comprehensive plans based on three core values: multi-disciplinary partnerships; balanced approaches; and data-driven strategies.
We've had an early chance to review the cities' work, and I'm impressed by the breadth of vision and the extensive level of coordination reflected in these plans.
It's clear you've all been working very hard.
It's important to recognize that the cities here today didn't start from scratch - they built on the good work that was already going on in their areas before the Forum began. As Boston's plan says, we're not seeking "to reinvent the wheel" here; we're trying to make the most of what we have, to "break down silos" and move "forward together."
That's what the Forum is all about - sharing information, leveraging resources, focusing on what works, and coming up with solutions - together.
Our work thus far deserves to be celebrated, but we can't stop now. The cities here today will now begin to put these plans into action, and our responsibility at the Federal level will be to support them as best we can.
Budgets are tight right now - everyone knows that - but we will continue to support the innovative work all of you are doing for your kids and communities, through sharing information, supporting peer-to-peer learning, offering technical assistance, and more.
Funding matters, to be sure, but we have to go beyond the dollars and cents. We have to be willing to look again at how we approach this very challenging issue and be open to learning new ways to prevent youth and gang violence.
The plans we'll hear about today reflect that openness, and ultimately we expect that those plans will help these cities drive down crime and improve outcomes for kids, not just for a month or two but for years to come.
Youth violence prevention is, after all, a long-term proposition. It's about making investments in our communities. It's about youth development. And it's about our collective future together.
Our goals here are ambitious, but with the level of leadership and commitment present at this Summit, I believe they're achievable. I'm looking forward to the presentations and discussions over the course of these two days. I'm confident that when we leave tomorrow afternoon, we'll be closer to realizing our vision of safer kids, and safer communities.
Now I'd like to turn things over to our distinguished Members of Congress, beginning with Congressman Conyers, and then followed by Congressman Scott, and finally, Congressman Farr. Please join me in giving them all a warm welcome.
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