The recent spike in homicides among young people in the city of Chicago has sparked the resurgence of a national discussion on preventing youth violence. Politicians, law enforcement personal, national civil rights leaders, scholars, and others are often called upon to formulate and solve the perplexing program of youth violence in urban areas. It seems as if everyone is empowered and looked upon to provide solutions to the problem except the very young people who are bearing the brunt of the carnage. The younger generation that is most affected by the violence are often treated as insignificant bystanders who couldn't possibly have anything valuable to contribute to the dialogue or serve as a vehicle for solutions. This mentality has resulted in a massive waste of the untapped potential and power of young people who are organized and empowered.
An example of empowered youth addressing and advocating for the prevention of violence amongst their peers was seen on Friday, June 29 at the National Action Network's (NAN) Youth Move "Shake Off the Violence" Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. The National Action Network has risen to the forefront of civil rights and social justice activism on the national level under the leadership and ascendance of the organization's President, Reverend Al Sharpton. What is not as widely known is the potent organizational apparatus and cadre of dynamic young leaders that Sharpton has assembled in the organization. Underneath Sharpton in the organization's hierarchy is a trio of talented young women: Tamika Mallory (National Executive Director), Janaye Ingram (DC Bureau Chief), and Dominique Sharpton (Director of Membership).
An even younger generation of leaders heads the "Youth Move" division of the organization. Fourteen year old Mary Pat Hector of Atlanta is National Youth Leader of Youth Move and twelve year old Victoria Pannell of New York City leads the Northeast Region. Friday's summit in Atlanta, which was organized primarily by Hector and her Youth Move peers, brought hundreds of young people into the Grove Park Recreation Center in the Bankhead section of Atlanta. The summit featured discussions and panels on subjects ranging from the "Stand Your Ground Law" and the impact of hip hop music to dating violence and techniques for violence prevention. A number of musical performances and speakers were also featured at the summit.
The strategy employed by the "Youth Move" is a deviation from a lot of programs geared at the younger generation. Dominique Sharpton crystallized the juxtaposition in her description of the summit as not being "another young people's conference for adults". Teenagers and younger were active in the planning and execution of the summit. Hector, a rising high school sophomore oversaw most of the days activities. Mallory, NAN's National Executive Director, purposively facilitated a coalition of youth led organizations to address issues such as providing food to the need, voter engagement, and violence prevention.
The methodology that the young people of the Youth Move employed Friday in Atlanta has the capacity to be duplicated in cities and towns across the country. The ability to build upon the power of positive peer pressure has been virtually untapped or at least minimally utilized outside of sports related activities in urban areas. The consequences of negative peer pressure can be seen in the prominence and growth of gangs among urban youths. One of the primary draws of many gangs to young people is the sense of importance and belonging that the gangs provide them. It's time for organizations interested in the betterment of young people to employ the tactics used by street gangs in terms of empowerment and cultivating a sense of belonging to motivate young people to engage in community service, civic engagement and social activism at a significant level.