THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Silence the violence
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Oct. 17-23. 2010
Last week's " Silence the Violence" town hall meeting at Mumford High School brought new energy to the civic life of Detroit. Unlike the highly orchestrated meetings held by the Mayor during the last month, this gathering of more than 150 young people, parents, teachers and community residents held the promise of serious and thoughtful change. Brought together by City Council members Saunteel Jenkins and James Tate, Detroiters talked about the kind of changes we need to make in ourselves and our communities to create a new, life affirming culture.
Council member Tate opened the meeting by reminding everyone of the two shootings that had happened just outside the doors of the building on the first day of school. He said, "If we don't start talking about kids, we don't have a future. We are here to start a movement that will come up with solutions."
Council member Jenkins followed by talking about how she had lost her 14 year old brother in 1991. He had been killed for his jacket. "Back then," she said, "there was an outpouring from the community. People understood the value of life over material things." She said we all have to understand that this was a movement to save our kids, "Not just the good kids, but all kids. We have to speak up to silence the violence."
Chief Godbee quietly said that the recent shootings were a reminder of the work in front of us. He commented that for young men age 15-24 gun violence in Detroit is three times the rate of the rest of Wayne County. "We have to ask, what are we doing as a city?" He too stressed that "We need to create a new culture. We cannot disconnect our young people from that process. They need to be part of the solution and young people need to be given alternatives."
The Chief also recognized that there were many people and organizations in the gathering that were already working to create this new culture and to develop new alternatives. He said he especially wanted "to give shout outs to Yusef Shakur, Victor Mohammed, the Peacemakers and the Guardian Angels."
After the initial remarks a group of four young people performed a skit about bullying. The drama ended with a young girl being mistakenly shot by her older brother. Then each of the young actors talked about what they could have done to turn the situation around.
This spirit of looking at ourselves to see what we could each begin to do differently set the stage for the small group discussions that followed.
In my group on the media, there were about 30 people, 10 of them high school age youth. The discussion was facilitated by City Council staff members Reginald Alexander and Nikkiya Branch. The two guided the group through thoughtful conversation that quickly dispensed with the question of how media contributes to negative behavior.
People wanted to talk about what we can do. A parent said, "We should just turn it off and spend more time with our kids. We need to get our kids more involved in activities."
Others talked about the need to talk more to our children. Young people said they needed adults to talk to as well. The group suggested making our own media, letting our voices be heard, to influence mainstream media and watching what our children watch.
"The change starts with us," one man said. "It starts by looking at what we do at home and what values we reflect."
This kind of honest reflection about ourselves and about what we can do together is the kind of conversation that holds the potential to recreate a city that embraces our children. ___________________________________________