By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
“How many of you have witnessed violence in the last week? Last month? Last year?”
As Mike Brown asked each question, more hands went up, until all but a few of the 40 youth had hands raised.
“How many of you feel safe every day?”
Not a single hand went up.
In a hidden-away strip mall in the International District, youth leaders and representatives from many youth organizations gathered Wednesday evening to begin conversation on what a youth-led action plan to address youth violence in New Mexico would look like.
Mr. Brown, a self-proclaimed veteran of years of violence, both on the streets of Los Angeles and in the U.S. Navy, recently completed close to 300-mile run from Albuquerque to Juarez to highlight the negative effect of violence on youth. The run began in Albuquerque’s West Mesa where 11 women were found murdered two years ago. He called the journey Run 4 Healing (www.run4healing.org), saying “There is one thing I wanted to come out of this run: I wanted to create a platform for youth to stand on….maybe a youth violence roundtable where youth are seen as the experts and are the ones creating the solutions.”
He facilitated a heart-to-heart discussion about the state of youth in Albuquerque, focusing on how youth can work toward a less violent society. The input from the attendees, who ranged from middle school to college students, was honest and centered around two themes. First, they felt there was a need for more youth to take a stand as leaders, and second, that there was not enough support from adults, schools and organizations to allow youth to lead effectively.
Jamie Escarcega, a 7th grader, spoke about the need for adult allies who know their role as supporters. “I think the best thing adults can do is to support youth who are working for positive changes.”
Another youth, Bryant Gomez, who has led efforts for increasing the voice of youth thought that the technology divide was a part of the problem in the communication gap between young people and adults. “Technology has become our hieroglyphics, it is our way to create our own history. Let’s face it, we are just too fast for you all!” he said to the adults in the crowd.
One of the adults to respond to the challenges and indictments posed by the youth was Vernon Butler of Advocates for Equity. He confessed, “I think the adult world has lost focus about what is really important, and how we need to mentor our youth.
The youth were honest about their own shortcomings as well, citing the lack of unity among themselves as a hindrance to making positive change happen.
From the event, youth and adult allies decided that coming together again was a priority, inviting all youth interested in getting involved to contact the New Mexico Forum for Youth in Community.
Organizations represented at the event included Advocates for Equity, UNM CLPS, UNM Office of Equity and Inclusion, Generation Justice (aka KUNM Youth Radio), NM Forum for Youth in Community, NM Youth Alliance, Santa Fe Community College, and the Native Health Initiative.
*Of note- I would like to thank the following youth writers whose energy and input contributed to this story – D’Ana Alderete, Bheira Ugalde, Jamie Escarcega, Marilu Ugalde. Look for some pieces written by them in the near future on Clearly New Mexico!