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.

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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. .

Drums not Guns of Legacy Arts Projects: Sara Jackson, Youth Program Coordinator, Fode Camara, Master Drummer, and Royce, Youth Program Coordinator (Pittsburgh City Paper Photo).

“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.

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“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.

Lead by example

Last year’s winners for violence prevention also include the Kingsley Association’s new Teen LEAD program. Teen LEAD, which stands for “Leadership, Education, Assistance, and Development,” offers tutoring, homework help, health and wellness programs, guest speakers, field trips, and food for older participants from 13 to 19, three days a week after school at the Kingsley Association in Larimer.

The stated goal of the program is to “develop a positive self-image in all participants.”

Since its launch last summer, 30 teens have participated in the program, Cathryn Calhoun, coordinator of the Teen LEAD program, told City Paper.

Calhoun said Teen LEAD activities also address topics such as mental health, leadership, self-esteem, health and wellness, and regularly ask participants for feedback on program content. .

The many deaths and gunshot wounds this year have been difficult for Teen LEAD and its students, according to Calhoun, but she says Teen LEAD was able to help attendees feel their feelings.

“Gun violence continues to impact both the program and the participants,” Calhoun said, adding that some program participants knew of those injured and killed in last month shoot on the north side. She says the Teen LEAD program has empowered grieving participants to speak out.

“During several sessions, they were able to share their feelings about the tragedy and were supported by their peers,” she says.

Unfortunately, Calhoun says the fear surrounding the recent increase in gunshot deaths has hurt participation in the program. “Some students are afraid to venture into different neighborhoods or areas for fear of gun violence or being in the right place at the wrong time,” she says. “A lot of teenagers have lost friends and they [would] rather stay at home where they feel safe.

She adds that they work “to make sure they give students the confidence that they are safe and in a safe environment with people who care for them and want to see them grow.”

And after that ?

Grants alone “will not stop gun violence,” Wolf administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Rementer said.

“Like so many other forms of systemic inequality, gun violence disproportionately harms communities of color and marginalized communities. Governor Wolf believes that to truly stop it in its tracks, we must invest in solutions to the systemic and structural issues that cause persistent inequalities in our society, starting with education,” Rementer said.

In addition to supporting community-led efforts to prevent and reduce gun violence, the Special Council on Gun Violence report also recommends improving training and education.

Wolf’s office told City Paper that it wants to create a “high-quality education system in Pennsylvania with equal access to quality education for all.”

Rementer said his plans include investing an additional $1.9 billion ensure a better future for all through education, while continuing to call on legislators to pass “common sense legislation that saves lives”.

At Legacy Arts, Rue said that in addition to the educational programs, she was excited about the prospect of giving attendees “something fun because I think a lot of these situations are due to the development of children who don’t have simply not the possibility of being children”.

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for the Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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