by Tammy Morales
Tuesday night a crowd of 100 neighbors assembled at New Holly Gathering Hall for a community discussion about preventing youth violence and substance abuse. As people lined up for fish samosas and chopchae, members of NW Tap Connection kicked off the night with a high-energy performance that set the mood for engagement. The event, co-sponsored by the Center for Children & Youth Justice and the SE Seattle PEACE Coalition, offered community members a chance to hear directly from neighbors about the causes of violence and what we might do to prevent it.
Fatherhood as Prevention
Eddie Howard was eight years old the first time he met his father. His dad was bringing him a bike as a gift. “Just him being there to see me, I felt I knew him, even though it was the first time I met him,” Eddie said as he spoke on fatherhood as a means of preventing violence. They met, but Eddie didn’t get his bike. His dad said some kids had stolen it. It wasn’t until years later that Eddie learned his father had sold it for drugs. Soon after their first meeting, Eddie’s father went to prison for armed robbery and Eddie didn’t see him for another seven years.
“Eventually I went to prison too,” Eddie said. “So did my two brothers.” Eddie is now a case manager with the Urban League and an instructor with LEAP2Win, a program that teaches life skills to those on their way out of jail.
“Approximately 60,000 people die every year due to violence,” said Ali Rowhani-Rahbar of the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center who spoke via video. “Violence is the number one cause of death for African-American and Latino men in the United States. To solve a problem of that magnitude, people from all sectors need to be working together,” Rowhani-Rahbar said.
Eddie’s story is all too familiar. “Not having a father around, it sets up what I call a generational curse. I hope events like this can remind the community to work together,” he said. “We need more community collaboration to ensure kids have consistency. They need mentorship from folks who have lived experience. But the mentors need to be trained how to talk to the kids, how to facilitate, how to talk about restorative justice.”
Terrime Paddio, a participant in the Urban League’s Career Bridge program agreed. “Young people need consistency. If they don’t have their fathers, someone else needs to be a role model or like a big brother,” he said. Career Bridge offers support services, career training and college credits to participants. “Youth need lots of volunteers to spend more time and regular time with them and show more effort to check in, to give them structure.”
Much of the meeting’s discussion focused on how to prevent drug and alcohol abuse among young people. Dr. Jazmin Zavala of the Seattle Children’s Hospital also urged community members to provide after-school structure to adolescents. “Kids need the consistent presence of adults who will mentor or guide them,” she said.
Sports, jobs, music activities, even household responsibilities can fill after-school time, which is when young people are most likely to use drugs. And usage rates may be higher than you think. Dr. Zavala reports that a 2012 study of 10th graders revealed that 69.2% use alcohol; 41% smoke cigarettes; 36% have used cannabis.
Steven, a student at Renton High School, agreed with Dr. Zavala’s assessment saying, “Kids do drugs to fill up time. We need more after school activities, so we don’t get bored.”
Several community members expressed a need for increased activities to address both youth violence and drug use. Jason, an 11-year-old neighbor, wants the community to “create a sense of family so kids don’t have so much isolation.” He asked for mentors to help with homework and for more opportunities to participate in sports teams. Other community members discussed the need to focus on ending poverty, discrimination and oppression.
Turning Tragedy into Hope
Kathei McCoy lost her son to gun violence after getting involved in gang activity. Several years ago she received a call on Good Friday. She learned her son had been fatally shot. She could have “died a spiritual death” that day, she said, but as she prepared to attend her son’s funeral, she asked herself, “Will I care only about me, or will I go help a mother whose son is in detention or doing drugs? I didn’t want my son reduced to a hashtag.” Ms. McCoy decided to turn her tragedy into hope. “When I decided that every black boy was my son, not her son or his, then we begin to love them past their mistakes and look at their gifts,” Ms. McCoy said.
Ms. McCoy now works as a life coach so she can provide the kind of mentorship and guidance brought up in discussion during the evening. Her mission today is to help other mothers love their sons.
“It’s only a tragedy if you don’t do anything with it,” she said. “What will you do with your pain? Will you allow it to kill you? I made the decision to end my tragedy with a triumph and not let it silence me.”
Planning for the next NeighborhoodTALKS will take place on Tuesday, December 5th at the next P.E.A.C.E. Coalition meeting. You can join them at Rainier Vista from 3 – 5pm. For more information, check out https://www.sespeacecoalition.org or contact Mahogany Villars at (206) 251-5847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tammy Morales is a community organizer in South Seattle and a Seattle Human Rights Commissioner.
Featured image by Danielle C. Eden