For decades, this Hartford resident has worked to prevent violence and support kids in need
Already this year, Hartford has seen more than two dozen gun homicides.
Last year, there were 35 homicides in the city, which was the highest annual number in 18 years, according to Hearst Connecticut.
But residents in the city are working every day to pull young people out of destructive cycles of violence.
It’s work that Brother Carl Hardrick has been doing in the city since the 1960s. And now, there is an Institute for Violence Prevention and Community Engagement in his name headquartered at the Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center in Hartford.
A lifelong Hartford resident, Hardrick works as a gang intervention specialist and an anti-violence activist.
Gun violence has impacted Hardrick’s family, too.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Brother Carl Hardrick: I’m trying to figure out to this day what happened.
I kind of know what happened. He thought that he [could] deal with the people he was dealing with – they were football players – they were friends of his. So he knew everybody.
He got hooked up with some bad people. It started with his friend getting shot. And he said, "Well, I got to get a gun." I mean, that’s what he was saying to other people.
So, you know, it’s trying to exchange a gun, then they were trying to rob him, and he jerked down, and they were scared – and as he turned his back, they shot him.
Lucy Nalpathanchil: I’m sorry to hear that.
Hardrick: It was devastating to everybody. Everybody that knew Makhi, knew he wasn’t about that life. He knew about it, but he wasn’t about it.
That’s the thing we have to be careful of in the institute. We can’t take everybody that commit[s] a crime. We have to balance that out. One of the young ladies told me, “We don’t get no attention. What do we have to do? Break a window?” So you have to balance it out.
Nalpathanchil: This is an important community center. Now it’s housing your institute to help prevent violence and to increase community engagement. What does it mean to have your institute here?
Hardrick: Well, if we’re going to deal with crime, we need to deal with where it is. We don’t need to build in West Hartford. And the Y is the ideal place. You’ve had several fights back there, there’s been homicides up here. There’s been homicides up the street. So we were able to say, OK, you know, let’s go where it is. Let’s begin to change the outlook on the city. Let’s engage people.
Because with kids, you got this: On this hand, you got 20% of young people – they’re going to do drive-bys, they don’t care what you say or what you do.
Over here, you have another 20%. They’re going to go to school. They’re going to work.
It’s that 60% in the middle that you want to get. Because you don’t want them to lean to the negative, you want to get them to the positive.
Nalpathanchil: When people come to the institute, who are the people that you’re encouraging to be part of this work?
Hardrick: Well, we’re looking for: How do you stop violence? How do you stop a young person from killing? Somebody knows. So what we need is engagers. Young people in the street, contacting other young people.
Most of the things you’d have is on social media. So you can see it up there. And eventually, it hits the street. The next thing you know, three people died over it.
So you need that engagement. Who are the leaders out there? Who are the people you can talk to? Who are the families you can talk to? How do you change that behavior?
Nalpathanchil: I know you’re born and raised in Hartford. Tell us about why this has become your life's work.
Hardrick: I think it starts with me being in a big family growing up in Bellevue Square, watching families that were very poor. As poor as we were, we were – as you learn in life – very rich, because we looked out for each other.
We had a very big, extended family in the projects. The kids don’t have that today. They don’t have people – if their mother is on drugs, or they’re doing something wrong – they don’t have anyone correcting them.
I was asking the kids, how come y’all are getting into so much trouble? And they said, “We don’t have anybody to stop us. We don’t have anybody to say, look, go home. So we just keep going until we get jammed up.”
So once you have that connection in the community, you can stop them, you can talk to them. Because they believe in you.
Nalpathanchil: When we talk about violence intervention, you know, there’s been a lot of attention, about the importance of changing laws. But there’s a cycle that goes on in neighborhoods where people are experiencing violence. And so, if we’re only focusing on changing laws – are we missing the important part of providing programs for people?
Hardrick: I think that’s true.
So the question is, how do we look at what drives them to that point where they have to have a gun – where they have to kill?
People have learned to hate. The question is, how do we teach them to love?
We’ve got to go where they are and we have to start early. We have to begin to talk about violence at 8 years old. And don’t wait until they get 15, or 19 or 20. We start low. And that's where you’re gonna cut it off at.
And if your kid is in trouble – you see things – then call us, that’s what the interrupters do.
Parents are calling for help, but they’re not getting it, because we don’t have the people out there. And that’s what we hope to do. When you call for help. Someone will be there for you.
You can hear the entire interview with Hardrick on Where We Live’s episode: “Brother Carl Hardrick: Violence prevention starts with meeting basic needs”