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How Urban League helped Cincinnati man turn his life around

Posted at 5:17 AM, Dec 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 14:21:19-05

WCPO partnered with The Cincinnati Herald to explore gun violence in Cincinnati and what is being done to solve the problem.

CINCINNATI — For Calvin Ivory, growing up in Cincinnati’s Kennedy Heights neighborhood was tough. His father wasn’t involved in his life, and his absence made Ivory’s childhood even more difficult.

“It started, you know, young, making bad decisions and being in wrong environments, making the wrong decisions… drug dealing and things of that nature,” Ivory said.

Ivory said carrying a gun went with the work; so, he carried one for more than 10 years as a means of protection.

The Pew Research Center says Ivory is among the 67% of gun owners who name protection as the reason they own a firearm.

Though Ivory said he never had to use his gun, he was worried about being shot.

“I was seeing it happen all the time around me, in front of me, to people I was real close with," he said. "There was a cost to living that life."

Ivory said a couple of his friends have been shot and killed. One time, he said, he saw a friend get shot in the face.

“A lot of people won't get it unless they grew up in those environments," Ivory said. "Like, we grew up in environments where you have less opportunities to succeed and thrive, and if you're in that environment as a young child growing up, and that's all you know, it becomes something you're used to."

Ivory spent a couple of years in jail on drug-related charges, but he turned a corner while he was on probation when he met Derrick Rogers.

Calvin Ivory (left) met Derrick Rogers, an Urban League advocate, when he was on probation. Rogers hired Ivory and later helped him start his own business.

Rogers is an anti-gun-violence advocate, and his work with the Urban League includes teaming up with police in a targeted, data-driven way to reduce shootings throughout the city.

“We provide resources … We provide opportunities to the underserved population,” Rogers said.

Despite programs, partnerships and policing, 82 people had been shot and killed in Cincinnati this year as of Tuesday morning.

The Urban League is working to stop gun violence by connecting people with programs or information that can help them overcome obstacles that might block a positive path. They offer supplies, like hand sanitizer and other household items, and they try to open a dialogue while they do.

In addition to outreach, Rogers also responds to shootings. While police investigate, he tries to make connections with the people affected.

The work is personal for Rogers; someone shot and killed his cousin, Sekou Lewis, when he was 34 years old.

Derrick Rogers' cousin, Sekou Lewis, was shot and killed when he was just 34 years old. Rogers said Lewis was like a brother to him.

Rogers said a typical week consists of talking to people between the ages of 18 and 39 who might be involved in gun violence.

“We ask them to bring the hope, and we follow up with the opportunities,” Rogers said.

Rogers granted Ivory a special opportunity when they met: He ended up hiring Ivory and later helped him start his own janitorial service.

“He kind of touched me," Ivory said. "He said if I really was serious about it, give him a call… and he'll show me how to do something else. I gave him a call. He actually hired me."

Ivory said he is living proof that, with work, people can find a fix for gun violence.

He said his children, Desani, Chasity and Jalisiah, were imperative in helping him turn his life around. Ivory even started his own janitorial service, named “DCJ” after his kids.

“They see me doing the right thing … That's all that matters to me,” Ivory said.

But Ivory recognizes his reality could be much different.

His journey includes work that has culminated into a simple truth for him: “Don't nobody want to be out here selling drugs and killing each other. Just nobody wants to really do that,” Ivory said.

Both men agree Ivory is one person in a much bigger picture and that getting people to make the transition can be challenging.

But Rogers said he believes the Urban League makes a difference. And that neighborhoods can change for the better, one person at a time.

Click here for more information about the Urban League.

Watch WCPO’s special “From Gun Violence to Solutions” tonight at 7 p.m.