We are just reaching the end of the first month of 2023, and unfortunately, the city of Tacoma has already experienced several incidents of youth-on-youth violence including school lockdowns and several shootings. Youth, parents, and neighbors are all living in fear. The community is heartbroken and Safe Streets stands with them in this time of mourning and anguish. More importantly, we seek to take action and implement change to nurture and maintain safe, healthy, and thriving communities.
The response from within the community has been swift. Senior Pastor Mitchell at Bethlehem Baptist Church on the Eastside of Tacoma quickly brought together a group of concerned community members to plan a series of monthly meetings centering Hope and Healing and aimed at implementing action. Safe Streets is working with this group to share organizing tools and techniques and connect community-identified needs with resources. We will be presenting to the Eastside community at the next Hope and Healing meeting on February 23rd at 7pm.
Safe Streets has long-recognized the importance of youth violence prevention programs aimed at upstream interventions. We work to provide pro-social opportunities for youth in 6th-12th grades. Our Youth Leading Change program, in which youth identify issues within their community, issues that affect their lives on a daily basis, and strategize and implement solutions.
Safe Streets currently has an active Youth Leading Change chapter at Washington High School in the Franklin Pierce School District and is recruiting for a community chapter. Several projects for this school year are being planned, including the creation and maintenance of hygiene carts that provide menstruation and other basic hygiene supplies to students in a discreet manner.
Recognizing that the interruptions to daily life, school schedules, and social interactions that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic have had a severe impact on people’s mental wellness, Safe Streets, in partnership with Game Time, launched a Youth Mental Health Initiative this year. We are holding Friday night sessions twice a month for the next six months with food, music, and activities aimed at strengthening young people’s skills in navigating their own and friends’ mental health challenges.
Our Youth Mobilization Specialists, Peter Chase and Yolanda Benton, have been hard at work organizing the sessions and reaching out to community partners at Fred Meyer and Office Depot to solicit in-kind donations. We had twenty youth attend our first session, and expect even more at subsequent sessions.
Finally, one of the most immediately tangible responses Safe Streets has initiated is the development of a partnership with the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) thanks to local Rainier Red Tails chapter member and Safe Streets Program Operations Manager, RoxAnne Simon. NAAGA has donated 300 gun locks to Safe Streets and we will be distributing these at upcoming Neighborhood Group meetings and community gatherings.
Staff recently participated in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action at the Eastside Community Center and distributed four locks, two to new gun owners with young children in the home. If you are in need of a gun lock, please reach out to us and we will work to get one to you.
As you can see, Safe Streets is taking a multi-faceted approach to responding to youth violence in our community. From addressing mental health challenges, providing youth with engaging and meaningful leadership opportunities, or collaborating with community partners to ensure that youth have safe spaces and a loving community in which to grow, we know that it takes everyone doing the hard work to make change happen.
The reality is, we are in a time of crisis. Our community is in pain, it is fragmented, and we cannot allow our children to be the canaries in the coal mine. Now, more than ever, is the time to ask yourself how you are a part of the solution. Do you have a skill that you can share with a young person? Would you like to mentor a neighborhood project for teenagers to work on over the summer? Can you make a cash or in-kind donation to our program to ensure we can reach even more youth? Please reach out to Safe Streets today and make change in our community!