There were giveaways, a live DJ, food and snacks, and a gaming truck for the kids in attendance. There were also different vendors there that represented organizations like Don’t Fall Down in the Hood and A Better Way, an initiative from Catholic Social Services.
Freda Shepard lives in the neighborhood and attended the event. Gun violence is something that all community members need to come together around in order to see improvement, she said.
“To talk about gun safety and gun prevention is very important,” she said. “The more we are educated about it, the more we know about what guns can do and the people who are using them.”
Each organization in attendance offered an array of services meant to keep children and adolescents out of the criminal justice system. A Better Way focuses on strategies to help kids with anger management while the Don’t Fall Down in the Hood offers aggression replacement training, teen dating violence prevention, restorative justice sessions, and trauma-informed therapy.
“It’s a great idea for us to be at the gun violence prevention and resources fair because our city is the most threatening to the lives and existence of all young people who are particularly minorities,” Archie Leacock, executive director of the organization Institute for the Development of African American Youth [IDAAY], said.
Many organizations had staff in attendance who explained their own techniques for self-improvement.
“Harmful learned behaviors can be replaced with new behaviors,” Bette Kennedy, a representative from Catholic Social Services, said. “The brain can be rewired.”
A Better Way was started in 1999 and has served over 100 students in 2020 and about 90 in 2021, Kennedy said. The organization focuses on adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 who are involved in the juvenile justice system or at risk for involvement with the juvenile justice system, she said.
The typical training programs include topics like how to cope with anger and understanding how to manage it, going through loss and the processes of it, problem solving skills, and learning the effects of drugs and alcohol.
“We have our youth describe some of their characteristics and we ask them to end the sentence with ‘and that’s just the way I want it,'” Kennedy said. “So, here’s an example from a youth: ‘I’m always late getting places …’ We’ll have them add ‘ … and that’s just the way I want it.’ After doing that exercise with youth, their description of themselves will start to change. Their wording becomes more positive.”
Some of the conflict and anger that is built up from difficult life experiences leads to a high percentage of African Americans to form their own perspective of therapy and not seek professional help, Leacock said.
“African Americans have relied on their own forms of therapy,” Leacock said. “Resiliency, self-soothing mediums, the church and the unspoken self-imposed question, ‘Who wants to hear my troubles anyway?'”
For Leacock, a focus on personal development can lead to positive change in the community.
“My entire mindset was to provide opportunities for minority youth in Philadelphia to succeed,” he said. “My observations after years was the American culture focused on failure, i.e., not properly educating, equipping, providing appropriate opportunities for our minority youth, in particular African Americans, to survive and do well.”
Engagement between IDAAY and the community strengthens the community as a whole, Leacock said. One of their engagement events include distributing food while advocating for safety against gun violence.
“Our Saturday food distributions happen in front of our building from nine to noon,” he said. “We need youth joining the local coalitions to advocate for change, particularly at the neighborhood level, where violence and unprecedented crime has gotten even worse than when I started IDAAY.”
IDAAY offers programs that vary depending on the needs of the individual youth, especially those that are referred to Leacock from the justice system.
“In supervising and providing one-on-one support to our court-committed juveniles, we provide them with a comprehensive group of interventions, therapies, and practical opportunities,” Leacock said. “Drug screening and therapy, trauma-informed therapy, both individual and group, and tutoring.”
The organization holds community events as well, all focused on building social supports that help youth make better decisions and not turn to violence whenever a conflict occurs.
IDAAY vents include a monthly parents meeting, graduations for youth who have successfully complete juvenile justice diversion programs, simulated rallies where organization staff guide youth and members of the community in how to peacefully protest, and other one-off events for youth that “highlight the importance of their lives,” Leacock said.
All of these events and public work of IDAAY is focused on building a more positive community where individuals can grow and flourish, he said.
“Time and trust will help build an environment for healing,” Leacock said.
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