As the mayor announced a new anti-violence initiative, some Jamaica Plain youths say it’s all about jobs.
Two youth of Jamaica Plain, Luis Tejada, 18, and Eric Robertson, 23, stopped by JP’s Community Caring Institute and talked briefly about their perspective on the issue. With basketball in hand, the two answered that playing basketball helped keep them and their friends out of violence.
However, they are not immune to violence. Tejada stated that he had been a victim of youth violence, but did not really know of any specific programs or support groups. “I wish I would have had more information about them,” he said.
They said jobs are important to violence prevention. Robertson emphasized that criminal records, sometimes for minor actions, often hold young people back from getting jobs.
“They should look at a person as a person. They want to work. If they did that, everyone would have a job. It wouldn’t be a problem," Robertson said.
On Monday, Mayor Thomas Menino spoke at the Summit on Preventing Youth Violence at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He described Boston’s Youth Violence Prevention Plan, emphasizing these key points to reduce youth violence: earlier identification of at-risk youth, improved information sharing between key stakeholders, improved youth violence indicators, more social services and educational opportunities, and more jobs for youth with or without criminal records.
Many organizations in Jamaica Plain work with youth on a multitude of levels, and each plays a role in trying to preventing violence. Furthermore, the mayor’s points highlight some of the work that is already occurring in JP to promote youth and reduce violence.
Adrian Rivera coordinates My Brother’s Legacy along with Rosi Troncoso. Rivera made an emphasis on the fact that the group, which is based out of , is not a ‘program,’ rather a team of young people who have been directly impacted by violence and who have come together to outreach other youth and engage young people in Jamaica Plain and Boston. With a mission to create peace within themselves, they connect with local youth, guide them to community resources, and model civic engagement.
The team relies upon one another’s connections to other young people. Rivera states, “I was raised in JP, and I know a lot of people. I know who the impact players are; I know who the at-risk [youth] are. And youth can connect with other youth.”
The group also receives education about responding to a traumatic event and they work to prevent rumors around violence. Furthermore, they then refer those exposed to violence to the proper programs and help.
“We’re interactive with the community. We help people cope with loss and deal with victims who have lost someone to violence,” said Rivera.
In terms of prevention, Rivera spoke about the need for jobs and collaboration. “The first thing they talk about is getting a job…They worry about getting through the CORI.”
CORI is Criminal Offender Record Information, which potential employers can access. People with records can have a tough time overcoming their criminal history.
“Communication within and between organizations is important, as well as collaboration and more outreach,” Rivera said to improve prevention efforts.
Maura Ramsey, the director of the South Street Youth Center, works with youth after school with a mission to provide a safe, educational, engaging space for young residents of the South Street Development. Ramsey focuses on more than just preventing youth violence through traditional means of enforcement and calls for action on several more fronts.
She states, “We need to advocate for social systems that don’t oppress our youth, like better education, better employment opportunities, a system that supports people to become independent of poverty and welfare, unlike the current system which perpetuates the cycle of poverty.”
She also calls for more mentor programs and an increase in street workers. Furthermore, she believes that community centers need to be built up and revamped in order to support young people by having more flexible hours and training on working with youth.
Some critics of Menino’s proposal have cited privacy concerns as far as schools and agencies sharing information about teens. Tejada and Robertson, the two young men from JP, both found education to also be important in prevention, and neither had qualms about information-sharing between organizations.
Both Rivera and Ramsey noted that community organizations in JP do share information, and Ramsey said, though, there are problems with privacy issues with schools. Rivera said youth should be asked if they want the information released.
Ramsey, though, believed the most important point in preventing violence is to move away from the focus on it.
“We need to acknowledge the fact that youth are human beings and move away from the focus of violence. Violence is the only time we talk about youth," she said, "and its negative connotations can become self-fulfilling.”
She emphasized that youth are doing a lot of other things in the community which are good and beneficial to society, and this needs to be talked about and highlighted.
Abigail Ortiz, the Manager of Community Health Programs at the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, works with young people in a variety of capacities in three programs, The Racial Healing and Reconciliation Project, the Jamaica Plain Youth Health Equity Collaborative, and Health Careers Ambassadors Program, that she believes prevent violence. The Racial Health and Reconciliation Project youth of color and white youth to discuss, expose, and address structural racism. Both groups are health focused, with the first addressing health inequities in JP and the Ambassadors Program working to better sexual education for youth. These programs provide meaningful employment for youth that is resume building and focus on youth education internally and throughout the community.
While she believes information-sharing can help in theory, implementing such a practice and doing it well seems nearly impossible to do. Nor does it focus on the underlying social determinants, which she believes are the key to preventing violence.
“Violence prevention needs to focus on upstream social determinants of health like education, housing, and racial justice," Ortiz said. "The Mayor has shown great support for health equity programs and youth jobs, and these are the things that are great for violence prevention. We need more mentoring programs as opposed to policing.”
She said focusing entirely on violence prevention can actually be short-sighted, when good jobs are actually, in her analysis, the key.
“A youth development framework or racial justice framework is much better for addressing violence," Ortiz said. "There’s a difference between getting a job picking up dead squirrels in the park versus a law office and also a difference between what jobs white youth have available to them versus youth of color in Boston. We need to use a new frame when advocating for jobs, focusing entirely on violence preventions is short-sighted and leads to short money.”
The Mayor's PowerPoint hopes for much of the plan to be implemented by 2014, but the Boston Globe states that there is no funding so far.