Responding to Youth Violence at Home

by Andy Mager

Although there is great concern about youth violence in our community, few groups are working directly with young people to help them learn nonviolent skills. Over the summer SPC began offering workshops to young people about violence, nonviolence, conflict resolution and youth activism. Our program is active and participatory, and it helps young people make the connection between the violence they face and that perpetrated by our government around the world.

“I appreciated the way the facilitators added larger forms of violence [to the brainstorm about violence],” remarked a young woman who participated in a two session workshop at the Southwest Community Center. “I never knew life in the military was like that,” noted a girl in the Northeast Community Center workshop after viewing part of the video: “Military Myths.”

Ten teenagers participated in parts of a four session workshop at the Northeast Community Center in July. Teen Center Director Shimel McDonell welcomed this resource for the young people and actively supported the program. The first session explored violence, where it comes from and how it has impacted our lives directly. In the process, the teens practiced truly listening to one another. A young woman reflected that it was “particularly helpful” to have the chance to really talk to someone she didn’t know well.

The second workshop focussed on nonviolence and what we can do to become more nonviolent. We were impressed that they were able to identify so many words and concepts as related to nonviolence. The third session gave them a chance to try using some nonviolent skills through roleplaying and the final piece addressed violence at a broader level. We asked the young people to decide how they would use federal income tax dollars and then compared their answers to the real thing. Education, healthcare and housing topped the priorities of the teens, while spending for war far exceeds anything else in the actual Federal discretionary budget.
At Southwest Community Center we worked with young people from 17-21 in a group of over 30. It was more challenging to get this much larger group to stay on focus. We learned a great deal which will improve our work in the future.

The future looks good for this work. A program has just begun with youth at Rolling Green Estates on the Eastside of Syracuse and we expect to work with Eastside Neighbors in Partnership and the Dunbar Center in coming months. We will need to secure some dedicated funding to continue the work at this level, but are hopeful we can do so. The skills and experiences of volunteers such as Cynthia MacBain, Ernest Jones and Rae Kramer are also critical.