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Opinion | Miceal Chamberlain and Mark Culliton

Boston’s next big investment opportunity — ending gang violence

During a vigil at a vigil at Sartori Memorial Stadium in East Boston in 2016, a small memorial was placed on the steps where 18-year-old Luis Fernando Orellana Ruano was found dead. The vigil was held for youths killed in the community over the past year, many of which were associated with gang violence.
During a vigil at a vigil at Sartori Memorial Stadium in East Boston in 2016, a small memorial was placed on the steps where 18-year-old Luis Fernando Orellana Ruano was found dead. The vigil was held for youths killed in the community over the past year, many of which were associated with gang violence.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

After seven years running with a Boston gang, and then spending two years incarcerated at Nashua Street Jail, Feneli Morales, 24, graduated in 2018 from the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology with a certificate in HVAC. He is one of more than 71 formerly gang-involved youth who are now in college, or have graduated from college. How are they doing this?

Boston Uncornered, a program created to help end urban violence and generational poverty, is proving that by setting the expectation that gang-involved youth can go to college to earn degrees — and by providing them with mentorship, guidance, and even financial support so they can focus on school rather than on their poverty — they will.

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The results say it all: Formerly gang-involved youth associated with Boston Uncornered are matriculating to college at a rate of 70 percent, as opposed to the national average of 1 percent.

This is why Bank of America and College Bound Dorchester are proud to be longstanding partners, leveraging the power of gang-involved youth to unlock the potential of our neighborhoods. Bank of America’s philanthropic strategy, focusing on economic mobility, largely targeting economically disadvantaged youth and setting them on a pathway toward self-sufficiency, strongly aligns with College Bound Dorchester’s innovative and impactful approach. Everyone deserves a second chance, and most gang-involved youth are desperate for a way out. But equally as important is that empowering them to uplift their neighborhoods makes economic sense for our city.

Gang violence is taking a toll on cities across the country, including Boston. Just 1 percent of Boston youth are gang-involved, but they have an outsized impact on our city. They are “core influencers,” whose personas and presence encourages others to follow their lead. They commit 50 percent of the city’s homicides, which take place on just 5 percent of city street corners, where 70 percent of Boston’s violent crimes take place.

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The neighborhoods that core influencers occupy are undervalued real estate due to violence. Companies are hesitant to invest in these neighborhoods. A study by the Center for American Progress found that a 10 percent reduction in Boston homicides would increase real estate values by $4.4 billion. A 25 percent reduction would amount to an $11 billion increase. Businesses that are competing for space in the Seaport could be sprawling out in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury if conditions were right.

Reducing gang violence will open up a new labor market. Boston needs all its citizens to be able to contribute to the economy and, with automation poised to dramatically change jobs across virtually all sectors, education is more important than ever. Nationally, 65 percent of new jobs will require a post-secondary degree. Further, underemployment and unemployment in our inner city neighborhoods remains close to 30 percent.

Reduction in trauma associated with living in neighborhoods with violence impacts everything, from improving short-term IQ scores to increasing participation in post-secondary education. As core influencers move from disruptors to positive agents of change, their ability to take on and fill the workforce needs of Boston will increase.

In addition to the incredible direct human cost, gang violence has a large economic impact on our city. The Commonwealth is already spending money on gang-involved youth – up to $100,000 per year each — to keep them incarcerated, in courts, and in need of support services. For just one-third of that cost, Boston Uncornered core influencers receive the support they need to get into and through college, from a stipend that pays living expenses to trauma-informed mentoring and coaching. The value to the city is immediate, as those who move from the corner stop causing violence and disruption and become positive contributors, even before they make their way to and through college.

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The next great business investment opportunity is right here — it’s core influencers. If we have the vision to see them as a risk worth taking, the returns we get could set Boston up for financial success for generations to come. And in doing so, Boston will be seen as a national model for turning urban violence into economic success.


Miceal Chamberlain is the Massachusetts president of Bank of America and Mark Culliton is the CEO of College Bound Dorchester.