Perspectives from a “We Love Our Youth Town Hall”

April 22, 2014

Youth panelists share perspectives at a Town Hall on Youth Violence in Philadelphia

Today’s youth have to deal with issues related to violence (physical and verbal) daily. So, what do youth need to overcome these challenges?  How can youth allow their strengths to shine through?  Let me share the perspectives heard at an Easter weekend event in Philadelphia originally titled “Youth Violence Town Hall.” It featured a panel of four youth who had experienced violence-- either as perpetrators or victims of that violence. Their collective wisdom, moderated by urban radio personality Eric Rimes of WURD-AM, provided several themes that can be shared with other children that face daily violence as well as with adults who are committed to tackling such a complex public health issue.

In the spirit of Mr. Rimes’ suggestion to rename the town hall “’We Love Our Youth Town Hall,” let’s focus on what our youth say will help them most to overcome the violence in their lives. They suggest actions for both adults and their peers.

Action for Adults

1. “Parents need to tighten up!”

One of the youth participants wished his parents had provided him with more structure and support. He mentioned that sometimes he just tells his mom to “tighten up.” He also reflected that his parents had difficult childhoods and may not have the skills to provide this support. Programs that teach or reinforce positive parenting skills (how to reward and encourage non-violent behavior and provide appropriate consequences for bad behavior) might work. One youth panelist said that “children were having children” so parents do not have the time or role models to help develop these skills.

And parents… your kids just want your attention. This is universal. As one panelist said, “I just wanted time with my father when he came around, not the material stuff.”

2. “Give us something positive to do or to model.”

Panelists suggest we elevate the positive stories of youth who do not succumb to the powerful pull of violence and drugs. They say youth create superheroes of the bad kids, because that is what gets attention from the media and others. We need to make superstars of the students that do well in school and do the right thing. They shared, “All we see is bad stuff in the hood and we feel trapped.”

With two young musicians on the panel, the role of hip hop music came up. They feel that musical artists need to be responsible for their words. If musicians want to have a positive influence, perhaps they focus their words and video cameras on the good things happening and help to normalize non-violent behavior.

One panelist said that too many adults speak down to black male youth-- “like we’re going steal something and it can take you over the edge sometimes.” Media’s portrayal of black male youth is partly to blame.

The media and other voices in the community could make the time to discover the positive stories-- the ones you don’t hear over the police radio.

3. Give youth a chance, even after they have made some poor choices.

One panelist was 21 years old. Between ages of 12 and 19 years he was in and out of prison and has two felonies on his record. In prison, he worked hard to complete his GED. Once out of prison, his relationship with a Philadelphia Cease Fire mentor helped him to break his cycle of violence. He now has a job at Temple University, has a creative outlet as an R&B artist, and is devoted to raising his child.

Actions for Youth

1. “Rethink your definition of "respect."

"Foremost," says a female panelist, “have respect for yourself.” Hold yourself to higher standards and expectations.

Then, think differently about whose respect you seek. “People that bring guns and drugs your way do not love you. There are only two things on their path-- death and jail.” These young men and woman were motivated by wanting to be around people that loved them and wanted good things for them.

The panelists agreed that those who demand respect through aggression and criminal acts don’t often have a good ending: There are “a lot of people in the graveyard with a lot of pride."

2. “You be the positive role model in someone’s life.”

Think about who you care for most. Who do you want to have a better future? Our panelists all had younger siblings or were young parents themselves and were motivated to stay on a positive path as role models for the younger children. “I don’t want anyone else raising my kids.”

3. "Stop and think before you act."

Finally, our panelists urged their peers to practice patience and self-control.  Perhaps youth-focused programs could teach strategies for this discipline. There are programs, like Partner for Prevention, that have found success in this with elementary school-age children.

Listen to a podcast of the Youth Violence Town Hall