New PGH Youth Programs Get a Boost with State Funding for Gun Violence Prevention
By Jordana Rosenfeld
PITTSBURGH— While overall crime rates have steadily declined in Pennsylvania and across the country over the past three decades, a recently published report says the number of violent gun crimes remains “significant.” In Pittsburgh, recent gun violence has made local headlines.
So far this year, 40 people have died in gun homicides, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazetteincluding 11 people under the age of 20, two of whom died last month after a mass shooting during a party at an Airbnb North Side. This weekIsaiah Dennis Anderson, 17, was shot and killed in Allentown.
In late 2021, after reviewing the findings and recommendations of the Special Council on Gun Violence, Pennsylvania’s March 2020 report, Governor Tom Wolf’s administration announced that more than $11 million in grants would go to 20 organizations across the county. of Allegheny for gun violence. intervention and prevention programs.
While violence intervention programs, such as local grantees South Pittsburgh Peacemakers and the Healthy Village Learning Institute, aim to identify and defuse specific conflicts that can lead to violence, prevention programs, especially those targeting young people, tend to take a more holistic approach. .
Local groups that have received funding have taken a variety of approaches to providing positive support, as advocates say higher saturation and a wider variety of youth programs are needed in the region to effectively prevent gun violence. .
Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with two local grantees, both of whom are using state money to create new prevention programs for teens, to discuss their approach to violence prevention and how the programs and their participants continue to withstand the dozens of shootings so far this year. .
The power of music
There are Many factors contribute to youth violence, but youth development experts agree that young people do better when they have “family support and follow-up; caring adults; positive peer groups; strong sense of self, self-esteem and future aspirations; and involvement in school and community activities.
Lori Rue, who describes herself as “a lifelong preventionist,” told the City Paper in a phone interview that “more [programming] we have, especially if it’s community, the better.
Rue, the director of development and support services for Legacy Arts Project, said it’s important to have many types of programs for young people because “not everyone is going to go to a boys and girls club , not everyone will be a scout, not everyone is going to, you know, want to sit down with a counselor and talk. We just need to have things that appeal to different types of kids.
Rue was instrumental in developing and securing public funding for one of the city’s newest violence prevention programs for teens, Drums Not Guns. This is an apprenticeship program of Legacy Arts Project, a black arts organization located in Homewood that focuses on youth and Africa-centered programming.
Drums Not Guns offers black teens the opportunity to learn African drumming, a craft that can be “very aggressive, energetic and expressive,” in a community shaped by “youth development best practices,” according to Rue.
Drums are a great outlet for kinetic and creative energy, Rue said, and the programming that frames drums focuses on “who they are and where they come from,” with three outcomes in mind: I create , I am and we connect. .
“The drum brings them to the table, it gives them that outlet, but then the youth development component is what helps develop those behaviors and attitudes that we want them to have,” she added. “And, you know, help them understand that there are alternatives to violence and picking up a gun.”
Drums Not Guns also has a learning component. “One of the things we do in our youth programs is say, ‘Hey, guess what? Art can be a career. And if you want to explore that, we have opportunities for you,” Rue said.
Participants in the program train under Fodé Camara, who Rue says is one of the few master drummers in the region.
“We hope to build this next generation of drummers who would be there to support the various African-centric arts organizations” in Pittsburgh, Rue said.
Their first cohort was a collaboration with Brashear High School, which Rue said has a significant number of students who migrated here from African countries. So far, 46 young men have completed the program, Rue added.
“They keep showing up because they want to be there,” she said, “not because they have to be there.”
Rue said she’s glad Drums Not Guns has “something to offer” as communities across the county mourn incidents of gun violence.
She said Legacy Arts is looking forward to expanding the program this summer, and it’s not too late for black high school boys to get involved in Drums Not Guns’ summer programming.