Youth Enrichment Services (YES) presented its inaugural Teen Public Safety and Violence Prevention Summit on July 8, 2022. The primary intention of this summit was to serve as a catalyst and a safe environment in the community for youth to engage in powerful, productive conversations about growth, acknowledging the power of youth voices, and using that power to discuss and make changes to the systemic and persistent issue of violence in our communities.
This event included a number of compelling breakout sessions, seminars, and workshops. In Mom's Voice, mothers and family members who have lost loved ones to gun violence expressed their stories. Ms. Bonnie Mclain, aunt of Mathew (Matthew) Steffy-Ross, Ms. Michelle Kenney, mother of Antwon Rose II, and Ms. Barbie Sampson, mother of Jasmine Guest, were among those who spoke on that Friday to honor and share their experiences with their aforementioned loved ones.
Kwahyum Williams and Ia'Mere Lawrence, two current YES students, and Diallo Mitchell, a recent college graduate, led the youth in peer-to-peer leadership discussions with Miles Porter, YES' Manager of Diversion and Voices to Men programs, and community leader Lee Davis on the impact and effect of this violence. In addition to this, the summit featured a Police Voice session, where two local officers Stephen Vinansky, and Tiffany Kline-Costa described how they have dealt with the increase in crime in the city, particularly in the East End.
As a social media intern, I was one of the few people responsible for gathering media and immortalizing the summit through the power of video, as well as running about and assisting wherever I was needed. While gathering content throughout the building, one of the workshops that caught my attention was Healthcare Voice, in which Dr. Eveldora Wheeler and Dr. Elizabeth Miller, MD investigated the trauma associated with gun violence and how families who have been traumatized by gun violence have suffered the long-term consequences of this violence on everyone involved.
This session was one of my favorites because they took a fresh approach to discuss communal violence by discussing stress and how varying amounts of stress may lead to violence. They addressed effective stress-reduction strategies, addressing issues in our communities at their source, and equipping children with better stress-reduction strategies such as sufficient sleep, eating properly, meditation, and so on.
Another intern told me after the summit that she and the group of students she was paired with during the summit really enjoyed the Project Overcoming workshop, in which Retired FBI Agent Don Seaton and Law Enforcement Professional RC Hughes III worked to demystify police-youth interactions by explaining historical concepts around policing and discussing how youth can better engage with law enforcement during traffic stops and other situations. “Seeing the kids fully engaged was the highlight of my day." "I liked seeing children ask questions," said Alayna Francis, a summer intern with Youth Enrichment Services.
Prior to meeting RC Hughes III, the students were all apprehensive about talking to the officers, but at the end of their conversation, they stated that the fear and discomfort were gone. The students had questions for the officers, and they worked with the students to break down any other experiences that the students may have had in the past to ensure they weren't being taken advantage of, or that the matter was being handled appropriately. They were taught what police officers look for during a traffic stop, as well as their rights as US citizens and how to make the officer's job easier.
After all of the breakout sessions, there were a few schools like The University of Pittsburgh and Slippery Rock University tabling around lunchtime, and students were permitted to connect with the different institutions to gather information about post-secondary education. They were also able to talk to the panelists and network with all of the other community members.
After lunch and tabling, our keynote speaker presented an exciting session, and we finished the day with a panel. During this panel, kids were able to present their solutions to teen violence to people in positions of authority who are capable of bringing about visible improvements in our communities, such as (Cindy Chung an United States Attorney, Ed Gainey the mayor of The City of Pittsburgh, Reverend Dr. John Welch Senior Pastor of the Sixth Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church).
Overall, the summit exceeded my expectations. I knew it was going to be successful, but I had the additional opportunity to connect with people like Mayor Ed Gainey, senators, NASA representatives, and old colleagues, to name a few, I was able to have conversations with the children, and listen to their solutions to violence in our community from a teens perspective. I shared a part of my personal experiences with gun violence on the local news. Children, panelists, and other stakeholders also provided positive feedback about the days’ events. I hope to continue and help support our fight against violence, and I hope to see more events like this from YES in the near future.
Finally, I'd like to take an opportunity to thank Office and Systems Administrator, Olivia Kelley, and Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Dennis Floyd Jones, since I was able to witness their collaboration personally and see all of the hard work and effort that went into making this event a reality, including the interns and other staffers who supported in many capacities.
“The first Summit was a huge success, in large part because of the diligent work of YES’ summer interns,” Kelley said. “Their dedication to the cause will be extremely valuable as we continue on this path.”
Though progress has been made, there is much to go in terms of reducing gun violence in our community, and YES is ready to tackle this issue head on. Going forward, YES expects to host more events and leadership workshops and continue providing resources to develop Pittsburgh youth into nonviolent leaders and agents of change.