There is a new mayor and City Council in Boston, and we as leaders for Teen Empowerment want to partner with them to bring peace, hope, and opportunity to our neighborhoods. The need to include us in this discussion has been tragically highlighted by the violence that has claimed the lives of 14 people since the New Year.
To combat the violence that is ravaging our neighborhoods, we urge Mayor Marty Walsh and the City Council to seize the opportunity to work with us as partners to change what is happening in our housing developments and streets. We know the streets, we know what the problems are, and we know what our friends need to make life worthwhile in the communities that are most affected by this violence. That’s why we are reaching out, along with our partner, Reverend Liz Walker of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church, to invite the mayor and City Council to meet with us on Friday to discuss our ideas to create change in our neighborhoods.
Until now, the discussions that have been held have been with many different people in our community, but the youth have something to say that has not been heard yet and more importantly, our voices can truly help save lives. While the voices of the clergy, the police, and community are very important, no real progress can be made as long as we are left out, so we hope Friday can be the first of many conversations where youth are included as partners with adults who want peace in our community.
We have something to say and we want the opportunity to not only be heard, but to be listened too. As the youth organizers at Teen Empowerment, we’ve had the opportunity to do the research on what happened from 1995 to 2002, when violent crime went down in Boston by more than 90 percent. During that time, youth throughout the city were hired to work in every health center, community center, and most non-profits as year round peer leaders. Youth from the neighborhoods, including those who were school drop outs and were at risk were hired and trained to have a positive influence on their friends. And it worked!
On any Friday night during this time, throughout the city these youth organized parties, talent shows, workshops, social gatherings, where teens came together to get to know each other, learn, and have fun. Along with all this, during the ’90s, Teen Empowerment held 15 City Wide Jams where over 750 youth would come together peacefully for the night, an annual Peace Conference where young people from warring neighborhoods successfully negotiated peace treaties, and many other youth led events that along with the work of other organizations led to a generation of peace that we can only look back on with envy and regret.
Today, youth can’t find a leadership job and have trouble finding any job at all, there are almost no social activities for teens in our neighborhoods, and the violence that we are forced to deal with just seems to grow with every passing day.
Teens, if given the chance, can work as a valuable partners with city officials and the police to bring peace to our communities. We are the ones that are suffering the most from this problem. It is stealing our youth, our health, and in too many cases, our lives. We have something to offer of great value that can help our communities. It begins by having adults, including those making the big decisions, understand what we are experiencing in our lives and listen to what we think needs to be done to create positive change in our neighborhoods.
We are the ones that are dodging the bullets, running through train stations away from attacks, witnessing our peers being shot and stabbed, and, in some cases, having to hold our young friends in our arms and watch their lives drain from their bodies. We are far too young to have to deal with the violence that we have been forced to endure. We hope the adults we’ve invited will join us to make this the first of many conversations that will help us make this partnership real and bring peace to our communities.Cherokee Brown and Derrell Williams are youth organizers for Teen Empowerment.