Milwaukee Violence: Youth must be part of the solution

“Today is about young people,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn told more than 250 youth and adults at last November’s “Coming Together Summit,” a gathering to begin a community-wide endeavor to prevent gun violence.

“We’re here to listen to you,” Chief Flynn said. The “we” referred to leaders from the Milwaukee Police Department, public health agencies, hospital administrators, youth, teachers, community organization leaders, researchers, and others.

Mayor Tom Barrett, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and County Supervisor David Bowen also addressed the group, encouraging young people to express their ideas. The youth, mainly from the communities most affected by violence in Milwaukee, shared personal stories about their experiences with gun violence and wrote hundreds of suggestions on tiny sheets of paper that covered the walls of the summit venue.

The message to the partners was clear: Youth want to be part of the solution. They believe the effort must be ongoing, must be carried out within neighborhoods, and must bring young people and adults together. The Coming Together Partnership, the collaboration that convened the summit, has agreed to carry out this mission. This strategic collaboration was convened in 2013 by Community Advocates’ Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative, City of Milwaukee Health Department Office of Violence Prevention, the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Violence Prevention Initiative, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Project Ujima, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Urban Initiatives and Research.

Already, the Partnership has put this mission into action through the sponsorship of six small grants to community organizations. Ranging from $400 to $750, the grants are funding programs that reach into the streets and onto the front porches of Milwaukee.

Funds used by these grants helped in the staging of Project Bridge, a rally against gun violence that attracted hundreds of people – mainly youth – for a march across the Groppi Bridge on a rainy, chilly April day.

Another grant funded a “Put the Guns Down” event by Westside Academy and Serve-2-Unite that found scores of young teens scouring the neighborhood around N. 35th St. and W. Lisbon Ave. to spread the word against gun violence and to attract more than 100 to attend a neighborhood rally in June.

Still other funding will assist in making the youthful suggestions come to life, including the production of an anti-violence music video, the hosting of a run and the presenting of an art show.

All of these projects will be presented at the 2nd Annual “Coming Together Summit” in November. Between now and then, the partners will use social media to keep the message alive in our communities that we must promote safety and peace and end gun violence.

The Coming Together Partnership believes firmly that changing attitudes toward gun use must come from within the community and must be driven by the very people who have the most at stake – our youth. Adults and policymakers have a role in this effort too by listening to and working with young people to end this continual violence by guns.

At last November’s summit, Chief Flynn reflected on why the emphasis on young people is vital: “For you, the youth of our community, are the ones for whom violence is not a theoretical problem. It’s a fact of daily life that will have a drastic impact on the rest of your life.”

These young people are creative, and these first steps may seem small. But they are at the table and they are telling us what they need and how to reach their peers. It’s time we listened and supported these small steps as the building blocks for a stronger, safer community that these youth will one day lead.

By: The Coming Together Partnership – Community Advocates’ Milwaukee Brighter Futures Initiative, City of Milwaukee Health Department Office of Violence Prevention, the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Violence Prevention Initiative, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Project Ujima.

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