UNIVERSITY AREA — A neighborhood adjacent to the University of South Florida campus commonly known as Suitcase City is a compact 3-square-mile chunk of real estate in unincorporated Hillsborough County. It is bordered by Fowler, Nebraska, Bearss, and Fletcher avenues and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
Despite its small size and population, the community has made quite a name for itself.
It is a place, according to statistics provided by University Area Community Development Corporation, where Part 1 violent crimes (crimes against people) are 25 percent above the national average.
In addition, the agency’s data shows that 79 percent of the total number of such crimes — burglary, rape and homicide and the like — reported in unincorporated Hillsborough County occur within the University Area.
The UACDC, in its pursuit to significantly lower the incidence of violent crimes against persons, recently launched its so-called Prometheus Project.
The name is derived from Greek mythology in which the divine hero Hercules released Prometheus, the god of fire, from his chained bondage to a rock while an eagle tore at his liver. The torturous act was Prometheus’ punishment for deceiving Zeus, the king of the gods.
The project is patterned after Chicago epidemiologist Gary Slutkin’s method of alleviating infectious diseases such as the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It’s based on his tried-and-true philosophy of attacking the source of the problem.
The Cure Violence program Slutkin founded in 1995 is aimed at reducing street crimes by using outreach workers, including ex-convicts and former gang members, to interrupt and mediate potentially violent conflicts between gangs.
His theory contending violence is a public health problem that is preventable by changing behavioral norms has proven itself in several crime-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago, Baltimore, New York City and in some countries abroad by 41 percent to 73 percent.
“Breaking the Chain to Cure the Violence” is the chosen catchphrase for the UACDC initiative.
“It’s time for us to do something different,” said UACDC Executive Director and CEO Dan Jurman.
“It’s time to take back our children’s childhood,” added Jurman, who as a youngster experienced first-hand the correlation between poverty and violence while growing up in a household with a single mother on welfare in a low-income neighborhood.
Heading up the initiative is UACDC Engagement Coordinator Cesar Hernandez, who refers to the University Area as the “epicenter” of violence in Hillsborough County.
“The UACDC wants to be the first in the southeast with a Cure Violence program. It’s time to break the chain,” said Hernandez in a film that kicked off the project on Sept. 18 at the Roosevelt 2.0 in Ybor City.
Hernandez is hopeful the UACDC’s $1.5 million grant request to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to help fund the program will come to fruition.
In the meantime he is seeking support from area businesses.
“It’s relatively inexpensive when you see what the county will be saving,” Hernandez said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]