Students from across Boston reached out to peers with a message of compassion and optimism at an anti-violence rally Saturday, an offer of support for any young people who need to turn their lives around.
“There’s no such thing as a bad child — just the environment in which they’re living,” Jamol Williams, one of the students from the Youth Organizing Institute of the Boston Public Health Commission’s Violence Intervention & Prevention program who helped plan the Youth RISE Rally, said in an interview.
“Just because you made a bad decision when you were younger, does not mean that you cannot change it now,” said Williams, 18, of Dorchester.
Students planned the rally, which drew about 100 young people and supporters to an athletic field at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, to deliver a message of peace in a way that was relatable and fun, they said.
“It was a group idea and a group effort,” said David Cheltenham, 17, of Dorchester, another organizer. “We all decided that we had had enough, and we all came together and decided that this was what we wanted to do.”
The acronym RISE has two meanings, explained organizer Niasia Hughes-Polk, 16.
“Our mission statement is to Resist Institutionalized Systematic Expectations that prohibit the advancement of youth in Boston, and in order to do this, we must Realize, Interpret, Stop, and Empower the underrepresented communities,” Hughes-Polk said.
Another organizer, Catanzia Casey-Cooper, 16, of Roslindale, said they want to encourage young people “to Realize what’s going on, Interpret the situation, Stop what you’re doing, and Empower others to make . . . the same decisions.”
“So we thought of resources that can help the youth who are part of gangs or in violent situations, [an alternative way] to make money,” Casey-Cooper added later. “So jobs, helping them with their résumé, places to go where, even if you have a record as a minor, you can still do things.”
Organizations offering information and services at the rally included Mothers for Justice & Equality, the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, the Boston Police Department, the Samaritans, the Boston Public Health Commission’s Neighborhood Trauma Team, and the social enterprise nonprofit More Than Words.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh praised the teens in a speech at the rally and renewed his call for stronger federal gun control laws.
“We are blessed in Boston to have some incredible young people in our city who are leaders, who are not afraid to speak up, who are not afraid to do,” Walsh told a crowd. “And that’s what we need right now.”
The event also included hip-hop performances by the trio Project Method and soloist Exoshakeem, the stage name of 17-year-old Jacory Martin, of Mattapan, a student at Boston Day and Evening Academy.
Martin performed his original song, “Salaam,” a cry for unity that includes the lyrics, “Our history, our way. Our misery, our pain. We fight for each other. We love one another. I can’t fight, I can’t breathe, without my brothers.”
“I wanted to make a song where we can empower our people, our youth of color,” Martin said in an interview. “Peace is the answer to most of this.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story omitted the name of the youth program through which the rally was organized.