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Washington, D.C.: Teen Leaders Discuss Gang Violence With Congress

World Vision nationwide initiative against youth violence culminates in D.C., as Congress works on gang violence legislation.

July 2007


Samuel, 20, advises those considering World Vision's Youth Empowerment program in the future: "If you believe you can change this community or you believe you're an important asset to your community, then this is something that you want to do." (c) World Vision/2007
On June 27-30, some 90 teenagers from across the United States participated in a three-day Youth Empowerment Summit as part of World Vision's work to develop youth as agents of change in their communities.

During the summit, the youth met with their members of Congress to discuss gang violence prevention. Teens visited the offices of Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and others, to share powerful stories from their own lives and explain how gang violence has impacted them.

Students Advocate for Safer Communities


Students, chosen from among hundreds of youth nationwide, took part in a 15-week training period to prepare them for the summit. The training curriculum included activities such as:
  • Creating a video about their community, to be presented at the summit, and
  • Researching an issue that is unique to their community and has a significant impact on youth.
The prerequisite training was meant to help prepare students for the summit experience, so that they would be ready to "voice their ideas on how they can partner with government to make their communities safer," says Corryne Deliberto, World Vision's domestic policy advisor.

Some of the participating youth have suffered traumatic gang-related experiences. For instance, one young woman from Chicago lost her cousin to street violence, and her house was shot at. Another participant, from Los Angeles, witnessed her brother's murder.

Participants hailed from:

  • New York City
  • Los Angeles
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Chicago
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Seattle/Tacoma
  • Albany, Ga.
  • West Virginia
On June 27, students prepared for their congressional meetings, to take place the next day on Capitol Hill. On June 28, they divided into their regional groups and met with their members of Congress. Finally, on June 29, the youth attended workshops to discuss how they can continue to have a positive impact in their communities when they return home.

Students to Congress: Address Root Causes of Gang Violence

Ebony, 14, enthusiastically recommends World Vision's Youth Empowerment program.
Ebony, 14, enthusiastically recommends World Vision's Youth Empowerment program: "I would tell anybody to do it. Anybody! Even if they think they're not leadership material. It doesn't matter. It's just so amazing!"

World Vision sees advocacy as an opportunity for teens to engage in structures and systems that have direct impact on their young lives, and that sets a pattern for civic involvement when they are adults.

"Sustainable change only happens when young people are empowered to be agents of transformation within their own communities," Deliberto explains.

While meeting with their members of Congress, the students shared their personal experiences and pressed the lawmakers to help prevent kids from joining gangs or committing crimes by addressing the root causes of youth violence.

Suggestions that the youth offered their legislators, as ways of keeping kids away from gangs and off the streets, included:

  • Allowing for more student engagement in the education process;
  • Providing more after-school activities;
  • Creating more places where youths can feel safe and build friendships; and
  • Offering more mentoring and tutoring programs.
In addition, the teen representatives strongly advocated for more young-adult employment opportunities to prevent them from relying on drug-trade money.

Prevention is Key


 
Apart from this youth conference, World Vision also works with lawmakers to develop a more comprehensive approach to the widespread problem of gang violence.

"World Vision is working on the issue of gang violence because teens around the nation cite this as a critical issue affecting their well-being," says Deliberto.

"A focus on prevention is critical to addressing the root causes of why young people join gangs, and it enables them to make better choices for a more productive future. Prevention strategies involve the whole community, including youth themselves, in fostering hope and creating safer neighborhoods."

INTERACTIVE*

Watch a slideshow with photos of youth from across the country preparing for and speaking at their community advocacy meetings with members of Congress.

The Gang Prevention and Abatement Act


A bill under consideration in the House and Senate, the Gang Prevention and Abatement Act (Senate Bill 456), which has broad, bipartisan support, would authorize more than $1 billion over five years to combat growing gang violence and fund prevention programs. Sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the legislation.

"Like a cancer, criminal street gangs have now spread throughout the United States, destroying neighborhoods, crippling families and killing innocent people as they expand," said Feinstein at the June 5 Judiciary Committee hearing. "Our gang problem is a national problem that requires a national solution."

World Vision is working with other nongovernmental organizations and partners on Capitol Hill to help ensure that the bill provides robust funding for prevention and intervention programs.

*This conference was supported by and produced with funds from Award No. 2005-JL-FX-0142 awarded by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Learn More

>> Read a day-by-day account of this year's Youth Empowerment Summit on the World Vision U.S. blog.

Two Ways You Can Help

>> Pray for communities across the United States that are affected by gang violence. Pray that the participants of this year's Youth Empowerment Summit will take what they learned at the conference and apply it as they continue to advocate for these communities.
>> Donate to World Vision's U.S. programs.

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Learn More

Read a day-by-day account of this year's Youth Empowerment Summit on the World Vision U.S. blog.

Two Ways You Can Help

Pray for communities across the United States that are affected by gang violence. Pray that the participants of this year's Youth Empowerment Summit will take what they learned at the conference and apply it as they continue to advocate for these communities.
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Donate to World Vision's U.S. programs.

 





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