Joe Black, Promise Neighborhood engagement manager
Data shows many urban communities are seeing a rise in gun-related violent crimes, which is undoubtedly contributing to an increase in the number of young black lives being lost. An unfortunate side-effect of the rise in violence is acceptance of this behavior as the new normal. It seems the rise in violence has led to a loss of hope, and talk of solutions to end violence are often nothing more than formalities that fail to produce concrete plans to stop the loss of lives.
On December 14, 2016, several resident leaders in the Central neighborhood decided that it was time to take a stance on the violence in the community. The decision to act led to a youth forum being held at the Friendly Inn Settlement. The event exposed the barriers of violence in the community by uplifting the voice of youth and parents. It concluded with all parties pledging to peace, through an intentional investment in self and in the community. As a participant, I left grateful to have the opportunity to impress hope on the lives of the youth, but I realized my activity must match my passion and there is still a need to do more.
Initially, I struggled with where to begin trying to solve this issue. Reflecting on my experiences in New York as a National Urban Fellow, I thought about the policies I studied and how so often the answer was never a concrete solution. What is the solution to violence?
The best way to determine what to do is to listen and see how to apply your skills to the voice of those most in need. Which is why attending the youth forum was so valuable.
While my action may be in writing and mentoring youth, another person’s action may include cooking hot meals for newly released felons. A father in the community may agree to serve as a coach for the kids, and a business owner may seek to employ more residents from the community.
The answer to violence can be as simple as deciding to do something instead of doing nothing.
The group of 50 young men at the forum was asked to raise a hand if they have been to a college graduation. Out of all those bright beautiful minds, only three raised their hand.
The group was then asked to raise a hand if they have been to a funeral recently. Fifty hands rose. This is the reality of a community where only six percent of youth have been exposed to a college graduation but one hundred percent of them have witnessed death.
One hundred and thirty-five lives were lost to violence this past year. Imagine how many of those lives had never attended a graduation. Central youth are being exposed to realities that far exceed the norms of past generations and because of that, we must act. So in response to the voices that I heard on December 14th, 2016, I vow to serve the youth by exposing them to advanced learning opportunities. I vow to challenge the youth to engage in learning before they engage in violence. More importantly, I vow to listen and to act.
I ask that those who share the same passion as me take a stance by contacting me directly at 216.346.5639 or via email at Jblack@socfcleveland.org, because now is the time to act.