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ONE Lexington sees growth and progress one year into revitalization

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Posted at 6:45 PM, Jun 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 15:49:10-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — It's officially been one year since Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton tapped Devine Carama to lead the city's One Lexington program.

It's a program was created in 2017 to address violent crime in the city, especially among young people. Carama was appointed to the position by Gorton in June of 2021.

His work in the community started as a grassroots effort but felt a strong calling to the position.

"There are structural things that we need. There're systemic things that have to be addressed and it's hard to address those from the grassroots side and so I feel like God led me to the other side to see what I could do there," said Carama.

They say they have seen progress, when it comes to youth violence, in that short time.

Although it isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, when looking at homicide data there have been four victims between the ages of 13 and 29 in 2022. Three of those are considered domestic violence situations.

That's compared to 11 young victims in the same period in 2021.

Even with that progress, Carama says they're going to continue to focus on young people.

"We still know that the statistics that led to One Lexington and focusing on gun violence amongst youth and young adults, is going back five years, six years. So, we don't want to erase five, six years of trends in data just because we're seeing some progress and jump to the next thing," said Carama.

Mayor Linda Gorton's office tells LEX 18 that a new mental health and domestic violence prevention and intervention team met for the first time on Wednesday. Gorton mentioned last week she was working to make it happen after a triple homicide involving a man who allegedly killed his wife and daughters.

Over the past school year, One Lexington has worked with 8 different Fayette County Public Schools, impacting the lives of at least 1200 different students.

The program has partnered with over 40 local agencies and organizations and recruited volunteers from all over including 100 black men.

They are seeing arguably the biggest impact in the in-school and summer mentoring programs like "It Takes a Village".

"Many of the schools that we work with reported back and said that they saw and an increase in academic standing and a decrease in behavior referrals and I think that's the impact of the partnership with the city and the state work together," said Carama.

The impact is the more than 3,000 young people the program has reached since Carama took over, the 15 instances of juvenile violence that were mediated before they ended worse, and the support shown to 24 families affected by gun violence.

Carama believes the impact is a result of their focus on prevention and constant intervention.

"It starts there. So many of the conflicts start and disparities start and trauma start in school, so how do we meet them there to maybe stave off some things that might happen later," he said.

Yet for the man who often cool and calmly talks in rhymes or parables, the past year hasn't been all cool or all calm.

They have been constantly grieving the loss of familiar faces, comforting children, and dealing with an initial budget 10 times less than what he expects to get this year.

Many even complained the mayor's office was too reliant on One Lexington to solve violence.

Mayor Gorton has made it clear she does not see it that way and is investing in a multitude of solutions.

"They want a fix today. They want to do it today and that's unrealistic. I'm just here to tell you. This is a long-term fix," said Gorton last week.

Carama says through the pressure and politics he focused on the impact and says relationships in the community have gotten even stronger.

"This isn't politics for me. This is my community. I love Lexington so I'm in it for the long haul," said Carama.

Last year, almost half of the homicides including 4 juveniles, happened between the months of April and September.

As the weather warms up and school lets out, he's hoping to keep youth busy in the city's "It Takes a Village" summer youth program and out of trouble.

The program is starting two weeks earlier this and adding 20 more slots for youth to participate.

The mayor proposed $400,000 for the program in her new budget for the upcoming year. The Urban County Council has not approved the budget yet.

Carama says the money will also be used to add a paid staff member to the current 2-person-team.