Youth & Families

Brief Narrative

 

North Richmond has historically been labeled as an unsafe place for children, youth, and families. The history can be different depending on whom you ask and the difference can be remarkable. But most agree that the neighborhood is marked by boundaries – turf delimited by railroad tracks, and divided by city and county lines – and relationships determined by location and deep-rooted family traditions.

 

The Unheard

 

Violence affects communities on multiple levels and children and youth are perhaps the most vulnerable to the stresses of violence. Building trust and leadership within communities prone to violence and identifying and addressing structural causes of violence are key steps to combating these issues.

 

Youth are often not heard in communities like North Richmond, where gun violence is a real threat in their everyday life. We learned and experienced the sorrow of their reality during our short period in North Richmond. Our goal was to develop effective ways to engage youth and offer a space for them to share their vision for their community. Our goal was to work with youth to create an asset map of North Richmond to demonstrate that North Richmond is resource- and culture-rich. We also hoped to create a visual display of the boundaries that mark their lives and limit their access to opportunity. Ultimately, we wanted youth, usually seen as the problem, to work together and become the solution.

 

To do so we planned a youth forum for April 19, 2012 at the Young Adult Empowerment Center (YAEC) in North Richmond.

 

Challenges

 

On Tuesday April 17, 2012 at 3:35pm a drive-by shooting incident was reported by Richmond Confidential. The shooting took place at Rancho Market on Market Avenue and 5th street, 0.4 miles from YAEC. According to the Richmond Confidential, two young men were shot at the front of door of Rancho Market; one later died in the hospital. Captain Gagan admitted that this was not an isolated violent accident. Conversations with other members of the community highlighted that this was a single incident in an ongoing conflict between factions in Richmond.

 

Our team members decided to reach out to our community partners and ask for guidance as to how to best proceed with respect for the needs and emotions of the community.

 

“The big unknown here is what is going to happen tonight and tomorrow. Unfortunately, the pattern is that violence tends to beget more violence, at least in the short-term. Hopefully, there is no retaliatory violence in the next 48 hours. The risk is elevated, especially given the brazen nature of today’s shooting.” Email conversation with Robert Rogers, Richmond Confidential

 

“No matter were you come from, help is help. Especially if no one else is doing [anything about it]. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.” Text conversation with Octavious Weber, North Richmond resident

 

“There is a war going on between north and central and I am not sure you all are prepared for the possible consequences. I would step back and be advised by clergy, police and community leaders in North Richmond before making any decisions.” Email conversation with Richard Boyd, Lead Community Organizer CCISCO

 

The Youth Forum was postponed from until May 3, 2012.  But, as our partner from YAEC said, “there is never a good time.” On May 3rd, the funeral was being held and we were advised to push the Youth Forum back again, this time to May 24th.

 

The Voices

 

On April 19th, we were fortunate to still be able to go to RYSE. Seven members from the YO Hub, a selective group of youth engaged in leadership training and youth organizing, who had initially planned to attend the Youth Forum were available. The main themes that emerged from the conversation and asset mapping activity were that they were very proud of their community and of Richmond but youth need more job opportunities, public transportation to/from community centers, healthy activities and food options, and most importantly a venue for their voices to be heard and empowered. They are currently organizing around a campaign for a Richmond City Department for Children and Families.

 

We also met with a group of ten young men who were participating in the music/DJ studio at RYSE who had a more intimate knowledge of and experience in North Richmond.  They spoke about the challenges including the history of the turf boundaries in Richmond that have create inter-generational tensions, poor housing conditions, and lack of recreational activities as some reasons why they don’t enter the N. Richmond “Bermuda Triangle.”  Although they felt that there has been “too many tries” to peacefully unite young people across boundaries, they acknowledge that it will be a slow process and have aspirations for providing more opportunities to North Richmond youth through recreational activities such as sports teams and a music studio.

 

Further Implications

 

Our challenges convening a group of youth highlights some of the struggles in building collective efficacy for young people in North Richmond.  When gathering a group of young people is considered a potential magnet for violence, how can healthy social networks be built? This will be an ongoing struggle for youth and their advocates in North Richmond.

 

 

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