Friday, August 26, 2011

On Youth Violence, Conferences, and Rap-olutionaries

Youth violence is not a new issue in King County, and prevention-focused, multi-agency public policies are not new strategies to tackle it. The earliest of such efforts I could find in this city date back to 1989, and funding for it has now, after over two decades of repackaging and rearrangement, collapsed into the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. Still, though, the problem persists. After performing and speaking with a group of young women at Powerful Voices, whose program was funded in part by SYVPI, I began delving back into research on the politics and paper trails of youth violence prevention work, and building with a number of dedicated youth and cultural service workers from different organizations and agencies across the city. One of these people was my B-Girl Media and 206 Zulu comrade Sista Hailstorm, who was asked to speak on August 19th, 2011, at a Gang Prevention Conference organized by the City of Seattle, King County Human Services, and SU’s KC Prevention and Outreach Work Group. Finding many commonalities in the moral, cultural, political, economic, and bureaucratic challenges people with integrity face doing this work, we decided to use this event as a platform to air these issues, as well as connect with others seeking alternatives to these systems. Here’s a summary of what happened, some attendee feedback, and some expertise critique:

The first speaker was Dr. Johnny Lake, a charismatic academic and cultural awareness trainer from Oregon by way of Tennessee. He emphasized through personal narrative and anecdotal references the importance of cultivating positive, proud cultural identity and self-esteem. This was followed by the only representatives working on the ground in Seattle: the community panel of Youth 180’s Gabriel Ladd, Keenan Allen, and Sista Hailstorm.(Photo from left to right: Dr. Johnny Lake, Keenan Allen, Gabriel Ladd, Sista Hailstorm.) The Youth 180 folks spoke about their mentorship model and the importance of community-based leadership development, while Sista Hailstorm went hard on multi-generational deep systemic violence waged against marginalized communities, and importance of addressing this in a discussion on youth violence. There was much more, and the community panel was a highlight of the conference, so I urge people to check out at least this part of the audio, which should be up on SU’s Social Work website soon. The final keynote, Dr. James Garbarino, is an author and academic who testifies on behalf of inmates on death row. The data he presented included statistical, scientific, and other evidence-based support for meaningful prevention work.

So what did attendees get out of it? I asked Hassan Hassan, an independent entrepreneur who has taken on youth service in the Somali and African youth community as a dedicated volunteer. “The conference had good intentions,” he said, “but I feel they missed the target when it came to interacting with us as local community grassroots representatives, to listen to our needs and perspectives.” Dione Johnson, co-director of the Multi-Media Center, a youth-led media literacy and production resource network echoed this sentiment saying, “The conference could have done a better job of inviting community organizations on the ground doing the work, but I liked how the panelists that were there did draw on positive models. We need more purpose-driven programming in contrast to violence-focused programming, because we need to call into being what we want.” She also pointed out the lack of youth participants, stressing that, “If we keep leaving young people out of the conversation, we are going to keep having the problem.” Liz Ali, who started Mother’s Outreach Movement, a woman-centered community support network, in 2008 after her son PJ was killed said, “I liked how relationships and culture were emphasized by presenters, and I appreciated Keenan on the panel giving his perspective as a youth touched by violence that has turned that around. I would have liked to see more youth participants.” (*See video footnote at the bottom of this article for youth perspectives!)

For an out-of-town, expertise perspective, I hit up Aquil Basheer of Maximum Force in LA, a former Black Panther with 35 years of violence prevention work under his belt. Too often, he said, such conferences are filled with empty rhetoric: “We rap-olutionaries, as opposed to revolutionaries, we like to hear ourselves talk. We got to stop talking so much and start bringing real measurables and deliverables to the table.” To accomplish these ends, Basheer emphasized the importance of community involvement in the planning stages of such events saying, “Before you do any conference, you need to get a specific needs list from the people on bottom up perspective so you can come with a blueprint to move forward. When we’re at the conference, we have to make sure we’re leaving with a time-oriented plan, a 5, 10, 15 point bullet-hit list of instructions and specific action items so we leave out the room with solutions and answers.”

With the plethora of youth initiatives currently on the table, including Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, the Seattle University Youth Initiative, the King County Sheriff Office Gang Intervention Initiative, and the King County Juvenile Justice Initiative, it would seem there are ample resources to accomplish this task. But if communities are not authentically aware of or engaged in the process, the results will not be consistent, sustainable, or transformative in the lives of our youth.

As a final ironic point in this conversation about violence and violence prevention, it should be noted that the hosting institution, Seattle University, has a president who was reportedly complicit by omission in the perpetuation of abuse to a whole Native community in Alaska. The story is here, and I could not do this report-back without pointing this out, as systemic violence and abuse and its impact should not be neglected, and settlement in the court of law does and should not equate dismissal in the court of public opinion. This is why as youth service workers seek to reform and adapt the existing service structure, we should, as a community, seek to create self-reliant solutions outside of the system that created these cycles.

In closing, I’d like to acknowledge Tanya Kim, from the City of Seattle for working to bring us to this table, and I hope that in the future, our new coalition of community-rooted youth and cultural services workers can help bridge the conference/community/youth divide.

(*Video footnote)
Since much of the feedback from attendees included wanting more youth perspective, my Project Mayhem/Think Tank brother Mic Flont, emcee from the group Waves of the Mind, offered to gather some brief interviews from his students in Katalyst, a Hip Hop & Social Justice youth education program housed in WAPI. He asked youth of different ages, genders, areas, and backgrounds three questions, and we uploaded it to Youtube. Here is the footage:

For more information about any mentioned people or organizations, or to find out how to get involved, email


  1. I think I saw this on community television. There was certainly a level of frustration among those in attendance and it was expressed during Q&A.

    It is absolutely community self reliance that will force the hand of status quo.

  2. how is a conference gonna solve the problems of our communities when the people from the community are nor represented? Good idea bad execution!

  3. It is especially important in a time when "our" country is rapidly dividing internally between a first world nation and a third world nation for our youth to not feel forgotten. A youth with no hope of a future and no real world role models displaying rational and peaceful problem solving techniques has little chance of growing into a humble worldly adult. Youth violence after all begins with youth neglect whether by a parent, a school system, or just by society at large. Involving and engaging youth (in this context youth being children of low economic stature or otherwise marginalized due to race, faith, etc.) on a day to day street level by people in the community who have values worth passing on is the only practical solution to stemming youth violence. So in addition to seminars and conferences adults in these affected communities must engage and listen to these disenfranchised youth, violence is a learned behavior.

  4. great great great writeup. youth violence is definitely a problem, but it's more of a symptom or by-product. we should definitely cut down to the root of what causes these things, especially when it comes to murder. fighting is one thing, but guns and knives is another.

  5. I will state my original comment to this again: Its really hard to exercise these concepts when the largest gang in the country runs hog wild. The Pigs are the largest gang in America, and as long as we have so called "role models" like them running a muck--We shall continue to face this same dilemma recycled. I am willing to bet none of the speakers even attempted to address this fact. GREAT work though Julie. You are my idol today sista. Takes balls to fight for what you believe in. Especially against a system as truly ignorant as the one in place currently. Big ups Miss C. ;)

  6. What Michael said.

    Keep up the good work, Julie. People like you help make sure there's a future in the future.

  7. This is quality writing, good insight, valuable information and the type heart based conversation we need to continue to have in our communities. I especially appreciated the youth interviews at the end of the piece. Beyond the value in the candor and content, the use of multimedia and the inclusion of workers and youth is invaluable. Great work.

  8. My simple comment is this: Get involved in the lives of the youth who are targeted in all of these initiatives. That can take on many different forms but must involve a mentoring component from not just a culturally competent framework but also from a space of real love and concern for the health of our community.

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  10. The problem is that youth want to stay relevant and most do that the best way they know how and that is what they see on tv and hear on radio of what a so called lifestyle should be in the 21st century. At the same time there is lots of young parents that dont think that much different from these kids. What i see at this Seattle Youth Violence Prevention is a good idea, but do they have that bridge between them and the kids? Do the youth want to go there and listen to people that might or might not understand them? What can our community offer to get there attention? I think the our system is set up to do exactly what the youth is doing to themselves and there needs to be a change from not only with in our community also outside because if you look around there is these same issues all over America. BTW Julie you are good hearted person. You did a great job on this article.

  11. I'm really digging what Aquil Basheer had to say about the matter. What would be the first step? Would more programs like Katalyst help? And is there any tracked information or polls on how much the Seattle Youth Initiative helped up till now?

  12. Your concern and care for the matter could and will lead to people willing to help and set things right. A counter culture would be key seeing how that president at Seattle U had his hand in that fiasco in Alaska. Keep doing your thing and many will follow.

  13. I've been out of the loop as of late, but being that I've been on a no human contact just my family tip one of the biggest things and never mentioned and hardest to get across to people is before a community can be communal they have to be accountable individually. It really helps jump start a community when the people as individuals can honestly look at themselves and say "I tried my hardest to do my part" now time to spread it to my neighbors. It really cuts through the BS of finger pointing and keeps a sense of order. Accountability, it is a must. We have to be right with ourselves first HAVE TO. That way the communities will come together as one not divided by self righteousness or what not

  14. Basheer hit it on the nose with a hammer. How can you honestly know whats wrong with the community first without addressing them directly. I feel any time when these conferences come together it almost becomes a lost effort to tackle any real issues because of the half-ass marketing that gets done to even let young folks know about events like this.

    Some folks might argue with me and say marketing gets done but the youth don't care enough to come through, in that case I would tell you to go back to your drawing board and figure out a different marketing plan because it doesn't say youth don't care, it says your out reaching in the wrong areas. I am a youth that cares and this is the first time I'm hearing about this event at all.

    Any time when something gets called a "youth" "conference", it goes without saying that the majority of the crowd needs to be youth. It has to be a youth friendly environment. These are the biggest mistakes that I notice get repeated every time when I see any organization trying to organize something for the betterment of our youth.

  15. Okay, first of all there are like 30 people in the crowd. That alone tells me that People don't care. Now, I'm sure that this was unannounced and what not, but I would claim if the community really cared, they would have BEEN WAITING, in fact, they wouldn't even have allowed things to get to this point. The problem is apathy, and it is facilitated by privilege. People have the privilege to go home and play Xbox when there's a shooting down the street.

    As far as the youth are concerned, they're not really concerned at all. As a whole, they do what they're taught to do, and their role models are weak. Most social workers I've ever known are overweight smokers, or have some personal insecurity. I'm sure their intentions are good, but the result is, you end up teaching people by the way you treat yourself.

    In the end, these little forums or whatever are a chance for victims and victimizers to meet at the same place and prove to each other how much they need each other in order to create a personal identity about themselves. Let us not forget that we attract people to ourselves. If you didn't believe you were a victim, there would be no victimizer to project your inner self-hatred onto.

    So much more to say, but I will say that we need to take responsibility, not even give these types of things our attention, and begin to build self-sufficient community that is liberated from this system all together. Time to organize the People and Grow our own Food, Teach through our Own Free Schools, Exchange skills through Timebanks, and use alternative energy to power ourselves and our Lives. In the end, Community Love will see us through.. Peace.

  16. Community input will NEVER happen or be taken seriously with an active leadership and an inactive base.

    Also, these conferences are essentially exercises in futility that do nothing but [claim to] attempt to 'cure' a symptom of the system; not 'cure' the system itself, which is in fact the problem.

    "Truth is the NEW pornography." Get news, views, and slappers each week at

  17. I think Aquil Basheer summed it up pretty accurately, in saying that those involved in community building should have been more involved,and that an action list should've been drawn up before all attendees parted ways. It is one thing to discuss issues pertinent to the growth and healing of a community, but an entirely different thing to devise a plan of action, and begin executing said plan.

    That being said, it is refreshing to know that these types of forums are being held. I was completely unaware of this event, however, and believe increased community awareness of such events to be extremely vital. I am fairly certain that there are a great number of people who would have attended, had they caught wind of this event.

    I feel that any effort towards positive change is commendable and necessary, so even a discussion lacking ideas from community leaders can be viewed as somewhat of a step in the right direction. That being said, talk is often nothing more than just that: talk.

    From this point forward, a lack of community involvement in the planning of such an event might be considered as intentional negligence on the part of those who desire to seem concerned, but in reality, care more about creating the illusion of concern, than actual upliftment.

  18. I’m going to take the optimistic approach to this observation and add some suggestions for those of us that will be hot under the collar after reading this and need some action.
    Now that you have been able to connect the dot in regards to the shuffling of children and money, those of us who are on the ground doing the work should come away with wanting to fill these unnecessary steps with action that will make us stronger in the work.
    1) We (this is a big WE) need to hold institutions/organizations/people who are tasked with helping our families and children accountable. To date, I don’t know where there is a forum to do this in a way that will create a systematic change that is positive. In my experience, if grievances are pointed out the institutions/organizations/people shut down and it becomes harder for families and children to access them.
    2)Why are people constantly re-inventing the wheel instead of collaborating with someone who is just as good as you/we are or those who are a piece of the puzzle? That is the main question to me. That is the question that is blaring at me the most out of everything you have pointed out. Just as you were able to obtain the money trail, there have been people who have exploited their access and not collaborated with any one. Hording space and ideas for fear that they may be duplicated with out acknowledgement. I get that. And if your program is good, it should be duplicated!!!
    3) Ego. Not enough can be said about this one word. We have so many resources already in our community and they are all standing alone. WE have to identify those who are in the work to get notoriety and those who are in the work to be a part of helping the community become healthy. Knowing the difference will help us know when someone is open for collaboration or suggestions in programing. Knowing the difference will let us know how to approach or gain access to these folks and when. Knowing the difference will prevent any hard feelings for anyone because they “are getting they money” vs. getting money to help the community at large empower themselves.
    It is time that when organizing for US, who US is. It’s time for us to know who to bring along for the ride. It’s time for us to stop complaining, get knowledge up, and become action forward. I believe if we take the steps above, we can accomplish this. Slowly but surely being the model we want to see. We want our children to see.

    Time for organizational report cards! Who’s with me?!

    In love with my community,

  19. In this generation of Hollyhood/Diva/Bling,Bling/SmokeWeed, get money and die, We have all lost focus on what is important. Being proactive in being active. The media will televise youth violence but will not televise a community response. The community is either a.)afraid or b.)indifferent to the situation until it happens to them or their children. Hip Hop at one time was about awareness, knowledge of self, being informed. Now it is about the exact opposite and it is a shame. Remember KRS ONE had the "Stop The Violence Movement" and every rapper had that logo on their albums. Songs like "Self Destruction" (East Coast) and "We are all in the same gang" (West Coast) brought the communities together to increase the peace. Now days no one cares because no one is informed. Thank you Julie for posting this. Keep On Keep On- Soul the Interrogator

  20. Peace
    I agree that the brother Basheer spoke directly to the main issue with this conferences. They tend to just be a forum for people who are given position to speak an opportunity to try to get the audience to go to church with them. "That's right, U know it... MmmmmHmmm" type of thing.
    And where some of them have valuable information it is not provided in the context of the people they're speaking to.

    Fact is if ANYTHING.. the speakers should make a brief statement about what they do what they've done and some of their accomplishments or pitfalls and then the rest of the conference should be built around people asking questions that relate to the current conditions their community faces.

    Finally Youth engagement is paramount in our efforts to reach them. We've gone to long SPEAKING AT AND TO our children as opposed to speaking WITH them..

    For my Part.. PEMG has been very successful at reaching and motivating youth.. and we are always looking for opportunities to work with other organizations that embrace the idea of cooperation without conformity.
    for more on PEMG
    good luck to you all

    my name is NYOIL and I approve this message.

  21. Julie This is Great!!! Rap is a great release for teens. I know it was for me.


  22. Yo Julie we have the same issue at every conference with big wig or even most "ghetto celebrities"...but I feel they missed the target when it came to interacting with us as local community grassroots representatives
    Van Jones was in Denver the other day for an urban green summit and the same thing I consistently see ...."they" miss the target when it comes to interacting with us as a local community grassroots representatives...cuz we dont' travel all over the world on our behalf "they" do.... My sentiments exactly NYOIL PEACE YALL
    Mike Wird

  23. Youth violence presents a serious public safety challenge to our communities. But the approach that our state has instinctively turned to in the past—relying on arresting and jailing those believed to be involved in gangs—fails to get to the root causes of the issue, and likely makes it worse. Communities that have successfully tackled their gang issues have all taken a multi-pronged approach. Narrowly targeted law enforcement efforts that focus on violent crime must be accompanied by gang prevention and intervention services that meet individuals where they are—and offer them realistic, face-saving ways to get out of gangs. It turns out that many gang members are searching for an exit from the violence themselves. The ultimate solution involves law enforcement, government, and service providers working closely together to create that exit strategy.

    In this year’s state legislature, an omnibus “anti-gang” bill (HB 1126) was introduced bill that would have made the serious problem of youth violence worse. Instead of focusing on those committing violent crimes, the bill pushed expensive sanctions that could result in innocent youth being arrested. This approach only strengthens gangs by cutting off vulnerable youth from the family members, jobs, and school they need to stay out of trouble.

    We’ll be facing this bill again in the 2012 legislature. To help ensure a comprehensive and well-balanced approach to gang violence in communities, become an ACLU-WA e-activist at

    Liezl Tomas Rebugio

  24. It is unfortunate that when space is being created to discuss issues affecting the community and young people of said community, the people living in these communities are largely left out of the conversation. Rather than bring speakers in to talk at people, the goal of these sorts of events should be to create space where the members of the community can network to take action for themselves, the speakers at these events would bring in an outside perspective on tactics that have worked in other regions but would mainly be serving as a jump off point for people of the community to discuss how these tactics could be implemented in their own neighborhoods.

  25. Julie, Comrades
    I am very impressed with the comments I am reading on this blog! This is critical thinking and analysis at it's best. This is the type of empowering conversation that "moves" communities to take progressive, before hand action and get the object accomplished. Before a community empowers itself, it needs a "doable" vision, clear direction in the form of a realistic "template," thought-out methodology, and individuals with the courage, drive and passion to carry out the mission! All of the above starts with a unbiased thinking process, similarly to what I see here. Just a though, build your foundation from focused comments that are being posted, this should be followed by the identifying of "common denominators" most are agreeing on, next lay out a realistic "plan of action" and lastly bring the expertise to the table that is best suited to accomplish the identified task inclusive in the plan. Stay "bottom up and caused driven" if you want to be successful! From what I am reading I can attest that you all are on the "right track!" Keep up the good work.
    Julie, again-excellent write-up.

    Success is when Opportunity meets preparation!
    Much respects to all,
    Brother Basheer