If you ask anyone who’s old school – or an “OG” in their neighborhood – they’ll tell you that street violence has drastically changed since social media came along several years ago.
“Some kids out here are stirring up violence from conflicts that start with a simple post on social media,” said Eric Waterman from East Flatbush Village, Inc., a community and youth development organization. “A lot of them don’t even know the person they’re pulling out that gun on. Most of the time, it’s not like back in the day when you had a brawl face-to-face with someone you knew or went to school with. Now, kids are reacting to social media posts from different neighborhoods with a violent mindset and they don’t have anything else to do – they don’t have a consistent and credible source of support to keep them off the streets. They’re not doing something productive and they need to understand that not every issue or action needs to have an immediate reaction.”
Waterman’s sentiments were just a few among a smorgasbord of information and resources that were doled out at a Gang Violence Prevention and Awareness Workshop on Thursday, March 3rd, at the South Shore Educational Campus, 6565 Flatlands Avenue.
Hosted by parent coordinators and Assemblywoman Jaime Williams, the forum served up a powerful menu of tools and ideologies that could potentially help de-escalate community gun violence and the dangerous decisions youths make every day. Some of the speakers were parents who lost their children to gun violence decades ago and currently make it their mission to help educate other parents on troubling signs of gang activity – often times hidden in their own homes.
The theme for many peace advocates was: “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” With shootings up in the city, more youths – now identified as individuals up to 24 years old – need direction. Parents are advised to pay attention to their children’s’ style of dress, communication and changes in attitude, among other behavioral signs.
“If your kid is all of a sudden talking different, listening to different music, wearing different clothes than you bought them, they could be showing signs that they’re hanging out with different crews and you might think things are copacetic when they’re not,” Waterman told parents.
Leaders with the street and community-based organization Man Up! Inc. USA also spoke to parents about their mission to get through to youths. The organization takes action in some of the most violent Brooklyn neighborhoods, including East New York, Brownsville and East Flatbush. Even if a child’s level of violence risk is minimal, Man Up! community coordinators – known as violence interrupters – try to take action, helping them find jobs or other resources they need.
Each of the Man Up! messengers spoke about their history on the streets that led them to helping others out of toxic environments and giving them productive conflict-resolution tools.
“Kids need opportunities that will keep them off the streets and their parents or guardians need to consistently be present – consistently expressing that message to stay out of trouble and focus on their life goals,” said one of the Man Up!
representatives. “Kids deal with a lot of peer pressure to be accepted – especially when they’re alone. You have to understand that gangs are very organized – like a sports team. The idea is to change these youngsters’ mindsets and with our boots-on-the-ground initiatives, we hope to get through to some of those who feel that pulling out a gun or taking someone’s life is the only answer.”
Parents, many who have children attending a school at the South Shore Campus, had opportunities to ask questions and engage with speakers.
For more information about Man Up! Inc. and their resources, visit ManUpInc.org. To find out more about how East Flatbush Village is helping at-risk youths, visit Eastflatbushvillage.org. Both organizations have offices based in the community and their violence interrupters visit schools all over the city to deliver their message of peace as non-law enforcement gang specialists. Mission work never ends for these advocates, but they are hoping they can change the dangerous dynamics of the streets – one youth at a time.