October 17, 2015
The need for more mentors was echoed several times at the Non-Violence Youth Summit at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Southeast DC. The 11-member panel ranging in age from 16 to 24 repeated this need several times in response to questions from moderator, and WPGC radio host,
SunniAndTheCity. The Non-Violence Youth Summit was hosted by Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) to “provide a platform for the youth of the city to speak freely and voice their needs”. The panelist represented a cross section of youth from different wards coming together to deliver a message to the city councilman and other city leaders in the audience.
Johnetta Simon (Ward5) set the tone and context of the summit very early with her impassioned recount of her troubled youth which included a number of arrests and deaths of friends to violence. It was not only her tone, but the passion in which she implored the youth in the audience not to be afraid to ask for help. As she stated, “sometimes you have to put pride aside and ask for help”. She credited, now defunct, Peaceoholics for providing her with an opportunity to escape the environment she was in. She cited five trips to New York, including a visit to the renowned Apollo Theater, as providing her with an opportunity to see something outside of the normal distractions she was exposed to on a daily basis.
This thirst for diversity and exposure to different activities was expressed by several panelist. Angel Mcase, also of Ward 5, voiced her frustration with the local rec center that’s “only open for baby showers and parties”. The need for quality rec centers was also mentioned as a possible resource that can give youth something positive to do. “Too often there’s nothing to do or you’re limited on what you can do” was one panelist’s account of his situation. Others pointed to the lack of challenging and interesting activities. The members of HD Mikey challenged the DC officials in attendance to broaden there thinking when they acknowledged that “not everybody is good at sports. Why not put a music studio in a rec center.” They credited music as providing them with an alternative to youth violence.
Other topics covered during the summit were the growing use of K2, a synthetic form of marijuana, bullying, and social media’s role in youth violence – particularly instigating fights. Social media was highlighted as one of the leading causes of a lot of youth violence as it’s often used as a vehicle for people to “hide behind the page.” Darrel Blount pointed out that too many youth use social media to “put others down instead of encouraging others” or using it for some other positive means.
When asked what resources they felt they needed in the community to curve youth violence, there was a resounding request for mentors. Mentors, closer to their ages, and experiences to provide leadership and direction. However, the irony to this observer, was that in listening to them I saw the future mentors to their peers in the audience, which included several youth who “had to come to make it look good for their upcoming court appearance” or Emmitt Hagans of the Youth CHALLNEGE Academy who “credits its quasi military program for providing the discipline he needs”.
Councilman McDuffie stated that the next steps depend on the youth. “We want to take this where the youth want to go with it”. He went on to say that they want to take the input from today’s summit and explore some of comments the youth made about the conditions at their local rec centers. When asked about the plea for mentors he replied” We need to find a way to connect these youth with some of the existing programs. We also want to make sure that we get programs they want to see in these centers.” When asked what he wanted the takeaway to be from the summit – the Councilman concluded that “Youth need a platform to express their needs and recommend solutions to bring peace to the streets”.