Local creatives leverage virtual reality tech to help curb violence in Grand Rapids communities

A new project plans to use virtual reality conditioning methods to help decrease violence in Grand Rapids and improve outcomes for its youth and most vulnerable communities.


Silence Violence Project is a collective of socialized workshop experiences designed to stimulate real-time outcomes to de-violence inner-city communities. Its creation was inspired by the surge in violent crimes and hostile social interactions in Grand Rapids, prompting a desire among local creatives to be a part of the solution. By co-mingling cognitive education and interactive tech workshops, the project’s co-founder, Ricardo O’Neal, says the goals and potential outcomes of the project include decreasing violence, building healthy community relationships, sparking socioeconomic growth, and increasing talent retention.


“We see the Silence Violence Project remedying several social ills at the height of its effectiveness,” says O’Neal. In the meantime, “Our main goal is to de-violence one inner-city street at a time.”


Ricardo O’Neal is a “creative-branding guy” and founder of Aurikk Brand Movement Group, a diverse group whose mission is to implement innovative and customized solutions to help clients build sustainable, quality brands. O’Neal, along with Kareem Scales, manager of innovation and technology at the Greater Grand Rapids Branch of the NAACP, teamed up to co-create Silence Violence; which can best be described as a passion-driven project. While its website points to statistics that highlight the impact of violence and poverty on children in vulnerable communities, the project seeks to change the narrative by providing pro-social tools to effectively overcome the triggers of violence, abuse, and poverty.


“We will utilize virtual technology to build-out levels of stimulating social experiences to understand the destructive behavior thoughts of our youth,” says O’Neal. “We want to recondition their thought process before it becomes reality.” Our virtual reality technology, he adds, “can transform the way educational content is delivered and will allow users to not only see it but also interact with it.”


The project is suited for young adults ages 10 to 17 and is made possible by the collaboration of creatives and community connectors. Treefort Studios, a software development company based in Grand Rapids, will lend its technology expertise by serving as the project’s virtual reality consultant.


“We are excited a program like Silence Violence is being implemented, says Treefort co-founder, Craig Burgess. “It's an issue that needs to be addressed everywhere.” When asked how Treefort plans to implement virtual reality conditioning methods in the project, Burgess says, “We sit down and listen to what is being said; and then, we consult on what is needed to implement an idea — such as hardware, software, and design.” Next, “we work closely with the client to develop the unique processes. Each program is unique and different, and we help companies navigate new tech.” Ricardo and the team, Burgess adds, “brainstorm on different scenarios and we help implement the idea with virtual reality tech.”

Additionally, co-creator Kareem Scales, who also serves as a youth advisor at the NAACP, will oversee community engagement and active participation of the project’s selected youth. Other community collaborators include the Grand Rapid Police Department, who, according to O’Neal, will help create content and develop community outreach strategies to ensure the project is making the needed impact. The project is managed by Brandi Bell.


On February 10, Silence Violence will host a community awareness launch. The event aims to generate needed awareness across Grand Rapids and provide the opportunity for attendees to receive an exclusive look at some of the technology the project will leverage. When asked what he most wants others to know about Silence Violence, O’Neal says, “The magnitude of the impact of this social tech project can only be attained with the total buy-in from the communities we are striving to save."


The awareness launch will be held at the Grand Rapids Center for Community Transformation at 6:00 p.m. and is free to attend.


Photo courtesy Aurrik Brand Management Group.