Demand A Plan Beyond Gun Control
Weeks after our time in Tarrytown, NY for the Building Movement 2012 Convening, a gunman killed 20 elementary-school students and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut. As parents everywhere still mourn the tragic school shooting in Newtown, yet another school shooting has occurred at Taft Union High School in Taft, California. A high school student entered a science classroom on Thursday, January 10th with a firearm, injuring another student and a teacher. This is the latest shooting to draw attention to school safety. The shooting, which also took place right after a school-wide staff safety-training just hours earlier, has left many violence preventionist moms like myself, wondering what can be done to keep our kids safe in school.
As I sat in the new Children and Youth Center @ POV in Los Angeles reflecting on both the local tragedy and the incident in Newtown, I was at a loss for words. After spending years in schools trying to prevent youth violence , it seems that I should have something profound to say, but instead I turned to the youth. This opens the door to a conversation about power of youth voice in youth violence prevention.
I am passionate about empowering youth because I have always lived from that youthful spirit within. In the process, I have cultivated deep connections with the young people I have worked with, celebrating their successes and supporting them through their struggles. As I stand with youth and support and encourage them, I notice that there aren’t many adult allies standing nearby. Instead there are those adults who judge and criticize youth; those that blame youth for the “trouble in the world today.”
Well it is very apparent to me that youth have inherited, not invented the problems of today. Rather than making youth the scapegoats, I believe youth should be invited to the decision-making table because they are capable of helping solve problems. I believe the philosophy of empowerment is especially pertinent to teens. Youth become empowered through education and by developing skills and confidence in their own capacities through prevention education. This education involves developing an understanding of intersecting oppressions and how they work to create environments where violence (in all forms) is tolerated. Education and empowerment has the capacity to create a strong representational youth voice in the service and decision-making life of our community, where youth are engaged as valuable resources in the local, state-wide, and national stage. Through youth empowerment programs, kids get engaged productively in their community, volunteering and voicing their opinions through meaningful social change efforts as alternatives to negative or life alienating behavior.
A week after the tragedy in Newtown, I had the privilege of working with youth leaders in CA. Thirty-three California teens came together to make this video to Demand A Plan to end violence that goes beyond gun control and does not turn schools into fortresses. “Don’t lock down our schools” says one of the teens, and others ask for more mentors and counselors. As the nation begins to think about “gun control,” these young people call for more holistic violence prevention strategies that Demand A Plan beyond gun control for Safer Schools. I am kind of dismayed of the focus on gun violence. This is a chance to show the interconnection between gender-based violence and school safety–crafting plans that are more holistic. I know that school safety is not a one-dimensional issue, and that we as leaders and activists, have to make sure that changes in policy and procedure have the whole picture in mind. This means considering the impact on students’ lives, feelings of security at school, and the all-important goal of educating the whole child for healthy engaged adults. This is what inspires me about Move to End Violence, a program of the NoVo Foundation–I believe that through widening our work in this way, we can begin to collectively identify areas of commonality and discover unlikely opportunities to strategically address the all of the systems of oppression that plague our schools.
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