Thursday, October 20, 2016

Youth and Adults Must Work Together to Stop Violence

By Dr. Stephanie E. Myers, National Co-Chair, Black Women for Positive Change 

Click here for more blog posts from the Blogging Carnival for Nonviolence 2016.  

Last year, during the 2015 Week of Non-Violence, Black Women for Positive Change (BW4PC), asked youth what they thought were some of the causes of violence affecting their communities. We wanted to get their firsthand opinions about the pathways that lead to physical violence, domestic violence, gang violence and one-on-one confrontations. We wanted to know why they get into fights, gangs and confrontations. 
To facilitate our discussion, we convened a “Youth Speak: We Listen: Town Hall Meeting,” in Pittsburgh, PA., in collaboration with Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay; BW4PC Pittsburgh Chair Diane Powell; Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak. A diverse group of 125+, mostly African American high school and college age youth, ages 14-24, joined the discussion in the auditorium at Allegheny Community College, in Pittsburgh. Other invited participants were elected officials, faith leaders, parents, teachers and law enforcement officials. 
Our opening question was, “What do you think are the causes of violence in your school, community or family?” We expected answers of police abuse, poverty, bad housing, bad schools, etc. Instead, the youth responded, “The adults in our lives! Many of the adults in our lives are negative and their negatively leads us to create violence against our classmates, siblings and in our communities!” Some of their examples were:
  • Adults don’t like their spouses”;
  • Adults don’t like their neighbors”;
  • Adults are unemployed, or don’t like their jobs”
I was very surprised to hear the answer from the youth that the adults in their lives are the problems, that contribute to violence. I expected them to say it was their peers, or gangs or police. But, when I consider the U.S. divorce rate of 46% the youth may not be far off…I guess the statistics show that many adults don’t get along with spouses. And, when you consider the impact of gentrification in U.S. cities where whites are moving into predominately Black neighborhoods and don’t speak or interact with the residents who were there before they got there, this can create anger. Plus, the export of millions of U.S. jobs overseas has left many Black American adults unemployed and underemployed and this can lead them to express anger, depression and job dissatisfaction. 
As we listened to the youth complain, we noticed that most of them were well groomed, well dressed and articulate so, it appeared that their parents were around and caring for them.  And, while I admit some parents are negative, I must speak up for millions of hard-working parents and adults who try to give their children and youth, the best they can.  However, it cannot be denied that the students at our Town Hall meeting felt the negative attitudes of adults in their lives contributed to violence. They felt the adults put lots of pressure on them and this caused them to be short-tempered, and get into random fights. 
In order to address a perceived problem of negativity, youth and adults must take responsibility for walking down the pathways that lead to trouble. Neither group can blame the other for all of the bad decisions that are leading to violence. Consider the following:
We adults must look in the mirror and recognize the negative impacts we have on youth from divorces, lack of employment, lack of money and interpersonal conflicts. Yes, those behaviors probably do create environments that foster youth anger and violence…and the price is too high.  On the other hand, youth who bully classmates, drop out of school, get arrested for shop-lifting and burglaries and become gang bangers, can’t expect the adults in their lives to stand by and watch them self-destruct. 
If today's youth and adults want to live in neighborhoods of peace and prosperity they must work together. Adults and youth need to sit down and explain how they are feeling and the challenges they are facing.  It’s up to all of us to “Change the Culture of Violence” and it starts with each individual. If adults and youth work together in families, churches, schools, neighborhoods and with law enforcement, the violence can be stopped.

STEPHANIE E. MYERS, Founder and National Co-Chair of Black Women for Positive Change, is Vice President of the R.J. Myers Publishing and Consulting Company (RJMPUB), a minority-owned small business in the District of Columbia that provides management consulting and capacity-building services for local government agencies, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and national non-profit organizations. She is co-producer of, a website dedicated to webc,asting minority health lectures, workshops and conferences.  Dr. Myers spearheaded the Week of Nonviolence.

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