Last night around fifty young people and community leaders from Crown Heights gathered in the atrium at Marcus Garvey Nursing Home to talk about gun violence in the community. Lead skillfully by two youth facilitators, Audley Jackson and Naiyah Wagoner, the young people present had a unique chance to voice their feelings and concerns about safety in the community in connection to gun violence, and to share their own experiences and ways they have been affected by it. Unlike most community meetings, adults were not permitted to speak until the end of the discussion, in order to highlight youth voices and prioritize their concerns.
Many young people shared the reasons they believe people carry guns, as well as stories about their personal encounters with gun violence. When asked how many people present had been personally affected by gun violence, either themselves or someone they know, almost every person in the room had a raised hand — a poignant response that reminded everyone present why they were there.
In the last half of the conversation, some of the adults present were invited to ask questions, including Assemblyman Karim Camara, Councilmember Letitia James, representatives from the offices of Senator Eric Adams, Councilmember Al Vann, and the Brooklyn District Attorney. This part of the discussion turned toward the practical, as the young people were asked what could be done to make them feel safer in their neighborhoods, and what kinds of programs they would like to see to prevent gun violence and encourage more youth engagement in the community.
It was agreed that more open discussions like this one must occur if something is going to change in the community. Robin Lyde, the mother of a teen victim of gun violence, urged young people to go out and take action about this issue, and to let people know that they are committed to reducing violence in the community. To this end, everyone present was invited to join the “I am C.H.A.N.G.E.” Coalition to further open the dialogue on gun violence and collaborate on ways to change the community in a positive way. The next meeting of the Coalition is being planned for January.