Weeks after a gunman killed 20 elementary-school students and six educators in Newtown, CT, yet another school shooting occurred at Taft Union High School in Taft, California. On January 10, a high school student brought a firearm to class and injured another student and a teacher. The shooting, which took place just hours after a staff safety training, has left many moms, like me, wondering what can be done to keep our kids safe in school.
After spending years trying to prevent school tragedies with Peace Over Violence, it seems that I should have something profound to say. To my surprise, I was at a loss for words, and that is when I turned to the youth.
I am passionate about empowering youth because I have always lived from that youthful spirit within. In the process, I have cultivated deep connections with the young people I work with, celebrating their successes and supporting them through their struggles. As I stand with youth and support and encourage them, I notice that there aren’t many other adult allies standing nearby. Instead there are those adults who judge and criticize youth; those that blame youth for the “trouble in the world today.” Well it is very apparent to me that youth have inherited, not invented, the problems of today, and they can’t be our scapegoats.
I believe youth should be invited to the decision-making table because they are capable of helping solve problems. I believe the philosophy of empowerment is especially pertinent to teens. Youth become empowered through education, skill development, and confidence building. Empowerment has the capacity to create a strong representational youth voice in the service and decision-making life of our community, where youth are engaged as valuable resources on the local, state, and national stage. Through youth empowerment programs, teens can become productive members of their communities, volunteering and voicing their opinions through meaningful social change efforts as alternatives to negative or life alienating behavior.
A week after the tragedy in Newtown, I had the privilege of working with 33 California youth leaders who are part of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities initiative. The youth made this video to demand a plan to end violence that goes beyond gun control and does not turn schools into fortresses. "Don't lock down our schools," said one of the teens, while others asked for more mentors and counselors. As the nation begins to think about “gun control,” these young people are calling for a more holistic violence prevention strategy.
School safety is not a one-dimensional issue, and as leaders and activists, we have to make sure that changes in policy and procedure have the whole picture in mind. This means considering both the short-term goal of making students feel safe today and the long-term goal of educating children so they can become healthy and engaged adults tomorrow.
The article above is reprinted with permission from The California Endowment.
Trina Greene is Manager of Youth Leadership and Development at Peace Over Violence, where she oversees the delivery of youth violence prevention initiatives.
Updated: February 06 2013